Mental Health and Aging…
by Gail Arno, CMC, ECM Director of Care Management
Untreated or dismissed mental health issues in our younger years can present in a variety of ways as we continue to age. Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from mental health disorders. The WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Because mental health is essential to overall health and well-being, it should be recognized and treated at all stages of aging. It must be recognized in all stages of life with the same sense of urgency as physical health, yet our health insurance system covers 80% of a physical health issue and only 50% of a mental health issue. Untreated mental health disorders in adults can lead to diminished functioning, poor quality of life, and increased mortality. Good mental health and early intervention contribute to healthy aging, which is our ultimate goal.
Often, as Care Managers we find ourselves working with clients (young and old) who have undiagnosed and untreated underlying mental health issues that once coupled with the physical challenges of aging, present more challenges than in their counterparts who have sought to attend to their mental health. We see familial dysfunction and disconnect, isolation, chronic illnesses, more frequent hospitalizations, and greater dependence on medications. For the past four years we have worked with John*, he is young, single, and lives alone following his parents’ passing. He is morbidly overweight, isolated except for our visits and his private caregiver that supports him daily. He struggles with personality disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and genuinely lacks skills in basic decision making. As he ages, we see further challenges present with his cognitive functioning and his general overall health.
As we work with clients like John, we find ourselves unraveling their life history and attempting to improve and enhance their lives in areas that needed attending to years prior to us meeting them. Evidence suggests that addressing certain lifestyle factors (social and behavioral) are critical to minimizing disease processes and allowing for aging with vitality. As Care Managers, we focus on a holistic approach and address all aspects (mental and physical) of our client’s lives as we partner with them in their aging journeys.
Scientists are developing and refining recommendations regarding optimal diet, use of appropriate supplements, mental stimulation, consistent physical exercise, quality sleep, social engagement, and stress reduction to increase the likelihood of enjoying healthy aging. The Care Management team at Elder Care Management is determined and focused on supporting our clients in all these areas to support their best lives. In turn, we hope that the generation following us is proactively heeding the advice of scientists and will take greater care of the whole body and mind, allowing them to age with greater ease.
*names have been changed to protect the clients’ identity
Sources: WHO, CDC and MHA (Mental Health America)