Mental Health and Aging Facts

  • As many as 1 in 5 older adults experience mental health concerns that are not a normal part of aging.
  • The number of people aged 60 years and older with psychiatric disorders in the US is anticipated to reach 15 million in 2030.
  • It is estimated that up to 63% of older adults with a mental health problem do not receive the services they need.
  • Untreated mental health disorders in older adults can lead to diminished functioning, increased disability, cognitive decline, substance abuse, poor quality of life, and increased mortality, including suicide. Research also shows mental illness can slow healing from physical illness.
  • While some adults may go through life managing a chronic mental illness, mental health problems can also appear later in life regardless of not having any prior history. Mental health sometimes deteriorates in response to a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, arthritis, or diabetes, and even some medications. Moreover, older adults without a history of substance abuse, may experience stressors that lead to abuse of medications, alcohol, or drugs.
  • Studies suggest that 1 in 6 older adults experience elder abuse – including physical, verbal, psychological, financial and sexual abuse and neglect. Elder abuse can lead not only to physical injuries, but also to serious long-lasting psychological consequences including depression and anxiety.
  • Older adults can continue to live healthily and thrive! Staying active both physically and mentally, eating and sleeping well, and maintaining social connections, are especially good for mental health!

Depression and Aging

  • Depression is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. It is associated with distress and suffering which can lead to impairments in physical, mental, and social functioning. It often negatively affects the course and complicates the treatment of other chronic diseases.
  • Conversely, chronic illnesses in older age, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can increase risk of depression.
  • Depression is both under-diagnosed and under-treated in primary care settings. Symptoms are often overlooked because they co-occur with other problems encountered by older adults. Primary care providers fail to diagnose depression almost 50% of the time.
  • Often, older adults also miss the symptoms of depression in themselves or misattribute them to the inevitable consequence of aging. The signs of depression are slightly different in older adults- many of them can mimic memory loss and illness.
  • Depressed older adults visit the doctor and emergency room more often, use more medication, incur higher outpatient charges, and stay longer in the hospital.
  • The risk of suicide is highest among older adults. Suicide rates of men over age 70 are the highest for any demographic group. Moreover, suicide attempts by older adults are more lethal.
  • Depression is not a normal part of aging! It is treatable in 80% of cases!

Dementia and Aging

  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia affecting over 5.7 million patients in the United States and more than 50 million worldwide. The number of people in the US afflicted with AD and other related-dementias is anticipated to triple to 14 million by 2050.
  • 82% of seniors feel it is important to have their memory checked, but only 16% say they receive regular cognitive assessments.
  • It is estimated that up to 40% of patients with moderate degrees of cognitive impairment remain unrecognized and undiagnosed by physicians.
  • Cognitive impairment is not always associated with dementia. Presenting complaints of memory loss or changes in behavior may be reflective of a psychiatric illness, a response to a new medication or a change in dosing, or an underlying medical condition. In many cases, what may appear to be a cognitive impairment may actually be an underlying depression or anxiety disorder in which attention and concentration become difficult.
  • Approximately 16 million caregivers provide 18.6 billion hours of unpaid care for people with AD and other dementias. More than 50% of caregivers will develop depression.
  • Researchers have long known that depression and dementia are linked. However, there remains a debate over whether the two conditions simply share common causes or whether depression is an early sign of dementia. One study showed that people who became depressed late in life had a 70% increase in dementia, and those who have been depressed since middle age were at 80% greater risk.
  • DWhile there is currently no cure for dementia, there are many benefits of early detection of cognitive impairment. These benefits include more time to plan for the future arrangements related to care, financial, and legal matters; develop relationships with doctors and other care partners; start treatments early as they are more effective in the earlier stages of the disease; and maximize functional status in order to maintain quality of life for as long as possible.