One in five people over the age of 55 have at least one mental health concern, with depression and anxiety being the most common. There are many factors that can negatively impact an older person’s mental health. Declining physical health, the onset of multiple chronic conditions, less independence, and more limited social interactions can lead to or escalate mental health conditions.
If left untreated, these feelings and conditions can worsen, and in some cases result in suicide. Older adults have one of the highest suicide rates as compared to other age groups—with white men over the age of 65 having the highest rate.
There are many opportunities to improve how we treat senior mental health, as this population tends to avoid talking about what they are experiencing and/or downplay the seriousness. The senior population may feel that sadness and isolation are a normal part of the aging process. They also may be embarrassed to discuss mental health concerns for fear of appearing weak or dramatic. With a condition like dementia, admitting there may be a cognitive problem can be scary and avoiding it is sometimes easier.
To help older patients get the care they need, primary care physicians must be proactive about spotting mental health issues and taking action. Here are three ways primary care doctors can make a difference.