Mental health of the elderly: how to care for it?

Getting older is part of life. And more and more attention has been given to this stage, considering its specificities and needs.

Along with the attention that has been given to mental health in general, there is also the care with it in the elderly. Therefore, it is important to know more about the psychological well-being of the elderly!

What is and what is the importance of mental health in the elderly?

Mental health can be defined as a person’s ability to feel good about himself, respond appropriately to life’s situations, understand his limits and ask for help when necessary, as well as organize himself and his surroundings.

In old age, mental health can be impaired due to several processes that occur in this phase of life. For example, cognitive decline is common, which can have a significant impact on mental health-related skills.

There are also some illnesses that usually arise and that can influence mental health, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, among others.

Mental health is important for quality of life regardless of age, however, more attention needs to be paid to older people, given that psychological well-being is often neglected.

Why is mental confusion in old age common?

There are two ways of understanding “mental confusion in old age”. The first concerns the natural decline of certain cognitive functions, the second refers to a pathological condition that needs medical attention.

Regarding the first definition, the decline in cognitive functions is normal for the same reason that the organism as a whole begins to decline. In such cases, these are simple confusions, such as confusing names and places, greater difficulty in remembering certain things, among others.

This type is not worrying, being just another sign that the age has arrived. However, if it is more severe, one can think of a pathological picture of mental confusion called delirium .

There are several reasons for the appearance of the condition, such as severe dehydration, hypoglycemia , infections, some undiagnosed neurological disease, abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, sleep deprivation, among others.

Delirium is characterized by difficulty in concentration, changes in consciousness, changes in recent memory, mental confusion, altered perception and spatial and temporal disorientation.

Thus, the individual may not be able to recognize people, confuse similar objects or with similar functions, not knowing where he is or what is the date of the present day, among others.

Cases need medical attention and can be resolved in a short time. It is worth mentioning that it does not necessarily indicate the onset of a serious pathology, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, one of the main characteristics of delirium is its sudden onset, while these other diseases have a gradual onset, that is, the person slowly presents the symptoms, which become more frequent and more intense with time.

Depression in the elderly population: is it common? Need to treat?

The depression in the elderly is quite common, especially in older people living alone or who are in nursing homes. The lack of socialization, common at this age, is a major factor in the development of a depressive condition.

It is not uncommon for a series of comorbidities common to aging to contribute to the onset of depression. In addition, due to such changes, sometimes the treatment of depression by medication is limited, taking into account that some substances can interact with each other.

Other risk factors for depression in the elderly population are retirement, social isolation, the hostile attitude of society towards the elderly, feelings of loneliness and worthlessness, a tendency to relive the past, loss of loved ones, widowhood, etc.

It is necessary to treat depression in the elderly, as they affect their functioning as a whole. If left untreated, the condition can become extremely debilitating, leading to suicidal ideation.

The elderly who suffer from depression may start to neglect their own health, which is already weakened by age, failing to take care of their food, hygiene, among others. Rates of self-directed violence (suicidal behavior, self-harm, etc.) in old age are significantly high.

In short, depression, in addition to being common, ends up worsening the quality of life in this age group, which is usually already harmed by other illnesses.

How to promote the mental health of the elderly?

There are some ways to prevent mental disorders and their consequences in old age. Among them is the adoption of healthy habits, such as:

Sleep properly

The elderly body does not need as many hours of sleep as the body of an adult or child. Still, it is recommended that there is a balanced sleep routine, which helps to combat both depressive and cognitive symptoms.

Healthy eating

Adequate nutrition is extremely important for mental health, regardless of age. Giving preference to fruits and vegetables is essential to maintain the health of both body and mind.

Practice physical exercises

Regular physical activity helps to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety at any age. Due to the natural limitations of aging, it is possible that many elderly people become sedentary, but it is recommended to continue exercising while respecting the limits.

Social conviviality

Social interaction is one of the keys to fight depression and several other mental disorders. In old age, it is common for social life to be less hectic, but it should not be non-existent.

Autonomy

Some day-to-day tasks get more complicated as age gets older. However, leaving it to others to do all the tasks is very harmful to mental health, considering that the human being is an autonomous being.

Therefore, maintaining autonomy in those tasks that the elderly can perform alone is extremely important to combat symptoms of mental disorders.

Therapy

Psychotherapy is a way to promote mental health in old age. If the elderly person has previously diagnosed a mental disorder, this can help prevent relapse.

People who have no diagnosis can also benefit from therapy, considering that the aging process is a phase of life full of changes and brings with it several conflicts that can be resolved with the help of a psychotherapist.


Care for the mental health of the elderly is essential to preserve well-being for life. In this phase, a series of changes occur in the body (and in the mind), requiring attention and empathy on the part of the family and the whole of society.

The Healthy Minute brings more tips on the well-being and health of the elderly !

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