People live longer than ever with the aid of medical treatment and the knowledge of preventative steps to lessen the effects of physical aging. As of 2016, people over 65 years of age accounted for about 8.5% of the world’s population. That number should double by 2050, with 17% of the population older than 65.
To live a rich and fulfilling later life, it’s also essential to understand the psychological effects of aging. It’s common to go to the doctor for physical health. But assessing mental health can often fall by the wayside, leading seniors to go without a diagnosis for mental health symptoms due to dismissal or shame. About 20% of seniors are affected by mental health disorders, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Geropsychologists research the aging process so they can develop interventions to lessen the psychological effect of aging on senior adults and their families. In today’s article, we’ll explore what we’ve learned about the aging process.
The Effects of Activity and Mental Health Disorders
Though genetics play a strong role in how people age, so does staying active. The activity theory defines aging well as having a day full of activities and being productive. People engaged in activities tend to lead healthier, happier lives and are more connected. But it’s not necessarily fulfilling if people stay active by doing the same activities every day.
People who experience mental health disorders show signs of aging earlier than those who don’t. In addition, they are more likely to develop other diseases and die at a younger age. Improving mental health can lead to better overall health and longer life expectancy.
The Impact of Aging
As people reach their senior years, they may experience psychological effects that hinder their well-being. They may begin to feel like they no longer have control of their lives as their bodies change, not allowing them to do the things they’ve always done. They may experience more challenges with muscle control, vision, hearing, and with their lungs, liver, and heart. Having these physical challenges may affect their psychological well-being.
Psychological changes caregivers may observe include:
- Slower reaction time
- Decrease in attention span
- Difficulty recognizing faces
- Problems with decision making
- Mental impairment
- Loss of appetite
In addition to the symptoms listed above, seniors may experience mental health disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease, leading to dementia or schizophrenia. Depression affects about 12% of hospitalized seniors and about 14% of seniors cared for at home. Depression can become chronic and lead to other long-lasting concerns, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Working Through the Aging Process
Two important steps for successfully working through the process of aging are early detection and consulting with medical professionals who can help develop an individualized treatment plan.
Tips for helping seniors adapt:
- Physical Changes and Illness – Understand the limitations the senior experiences while encouraging them to have a full life. It’s also essential for aging adults to get adequate rest and sleep between their activities.
- Hobbies – With more free time, seniors can re-engage in long-lost hobbies or learn new ones.
- Find Meaning and Make New Connections – Most communities offer volunteer activities or have community centers for seniors to connect and be valued for their knowledge and skills. New connections and meaning may also support others within the community.
- Travel – Seniors often take vacations to the places they’ve always wanted to go, reconnect with friends, or visit family.
- Write a Memoir or Journal – Encourage seniors to write a memoir. Their descendants are often surprised by what they didn’t know about their elders. If a memoir is too daunting of a task, journaling is a great compromise. This allows seniors to capture their daily lives and reminisce about the past.
Caring for the Elderly
Caring for seniors experiencing the psychological effects of aging may be new and challenging. It’s vital to respect the senior and the caregiver.
Senior adults are humans who have lived full lives on their own. They’re working to adapt to the changes they’re experiencing.
Caregivers are also experiencing changes to their routines and new demands. Caregivers must be mindful of their capacities. Failing to engage in self-care may put them at risk of physically and mentally tiring, leading to compassion fatigue.
Contacting a Counselor for Help
Contact a counselor if you know a senior who is experiencing a loss of interest in things that once brought them joy.
Symptoms to look for include:
- Making comments of hopelessness
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Mood changes
- Isolation or withdrawal
- Changes in weight
- Difficulty caring for a pet
- Changes in appearance
If your loved one experiences any of the changes above, it may be time to seek help to ensure their emotional health isn’t suffering.
We can help you find a therapist who specializes in aging concerns. Search through our large collection of vetted counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to find a therapist near you.
Sources and References:
Aging and depression (2021)
American Psychological Association
Neural Plasticity during Aging
Arcos-Burgos, M., Lopera, F., Sepulveda-Falla, D., & Mastronardi, C. (2019, March 26)
Depression in Elderly Adults: Signs & Treatment
A Place for Mom
Gaunt, A. (2020, July 8)
Psychosocial Theories of Aging: Activity Theory, Continuity Theory & Disengagement Theory
Kowalczyk, D. (2021, September 23)
Mental illnesses in early life linked to faster aging and worse health in later years (2021, May 6)
National Institute on Aging https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/early-mental-illness-accelerates-aging-process
Psychosocial Theories of Aging: Activity Theory, Continuity Theory & Disengagement Theory (2014, January 26) https://study.com/academy/lesson/psychosocial-theories-of-aging-activity-theory-continuity-theory-disengagement-theory.html
Psychology and aging: Psychologists make a significant contribution (n.d.)
Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/psychology-and-aging
Everything You Need to Know About Dementia: 10 Common Questions Answered
A Place for Mom
Samuels, C. (2021, March 23)