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Supporting Seniors’ Mental Health Throughout the Aging Process

Preserving a person’s life is one of the fundamental goals — if not the fundamental goal — of the medical profession, and our advancements in technology, care and preventive practices have seen Americans increase their life expectancy considerably. But as we celebrate these victories and continue on the path toward better health and longer life, medical professionals, particularly those in the mental health field, must also be mindful of the new challenges these longer lives create.

Long Life and the Impact on Mental Health

While the experience is different for everyone, our bodies do deteriorate as we age, and this deterioration is just one of the challenges seniors face when discussing the issue of mental health.

Research from the University of Bradford, appearing in the journal Psychology and Aging, finds that the long-understood increase in depression among seniors during the aging process actually increases once again as people reach age 85 and beyond. The research determines that this further increased depression is caused by the onset of continued medical conditions and the relative awareness of one’s own mortality.

In addition, a further study from the University of Toronto finds a direct correlation between how a senior feels about their aging and certain physical limitations. This research studied 301 participants in the age ranges of 56 to 96 and found those who had a more negative outlook on their aging also scored more poorly in hearing and memory tests. Those who were more positive in their outlook provided the opposite results.

Helping Seniors Age Gracefully

For professionals in the mental health space, the findings of this research mean that just as patients’ care needs increase with advanced age, so too do their mental health care needs. When it comes to helping seniors confront the possibility of increased depression, mental health professionals possess a wide array of treatment options, including, but not limited to, the prescribing of antidepressants.

Psychotherapy, for example, is one such treatment option. In fact, this practice has been proven in some studies to be just as effective in initially treating depression symptoms as antidepressant medication. Complementary therapies, such as yoga, dietary changes or volunteering are also gaining in popularity as a treatment resource. These simple, effective methods have been shown to boost a senior’s confidence and help them to establish social building blocks that will support them in the future. For therapists with clients whose depression can be directly tied to feelings of isolation or loneliness, even a simple once-weekly yoga class can turn the tide by giving them something to look forward to.

Finally, in cases where depression is long-standing and severe, therapists may turn to Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This therapy stimulates the brain with implants, magnets or electricity, and despite the existing misconceptions, has actually been proven to be very safe. Clinicians considering ECT for the first time would do well to research it thoroughly, however, before presenting the solution to their patients.

Offering Lasting Support

One of the most important things a therapist can do to provide meaningful treatment to their patients is to understand the unique challenges that come with advanced age. While it is easy to see arthritis as a simple physical condition causing joint pain, for the senior experiencing it, the condition is symbolic in that their hands no longer work as they once did. Understanding these frustrations and supporting senior patients as a partner can provide the companionship many older adults yearn for, increasing the importance of the meeting on the senior’s calendar. It’s a unique position that allows mental health professionals to help their patients on two equal fronts. Because while prolonging a person’s life will always be a goal of all medical professionals, prolonging the quality of that life can never be discounted.

At ICANotes, we understand the importance of ensuring your patients are receiving the best care possible. To learn more about our behavioral health EHR software, please contact us or request your free trial today.

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