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Over the years, the population of the world, specifically in the US, Australia, France, and Germany, has continued to experience increase in the number of the elderly citizens. Almost 35 percent of the world’s population is made of people above the age of 65 (American Psychological Association, 2011). This is because; most individuals from the late baby boom generation are approaching their early 60s, while others are turning 70. Since the late baby-boomers have been characterized with long life spans, their numbers is still high in the world population, hence contributing to the great number of elderly individuals in the population.
However, despite their longer life spans, the elderly experience numerous health issues. Many elderly people experience mental health problems, and related illnesses. According to the American Psychological Association, it is anticipated that, by the year 2030, the number of elderly people suffering from mental health problems and related illnesses will be 15 million (2011). This will be a 400 percent increase from 4 million in 1970. Mental health problems associated with aging include stress, depression, anxiety, and mental health related illnesses such as diabetes and hyperglycemia.
This paper discusses some of the mental health issues experienced by elderly persons. I chose this topic is because; as a psychology student, I strongly believe that, psychologists have a vital role to play in addressing the mental health needs of our senior citizens, in order to support the increasing needs of the elderly adults. Consequently, provision of mental health care to the elderly population would assist in reduction of some of the health problems associated with mental health problems, which the elderly people suffer from. Elderly people are likely to suffer more from mental health problems, and mental health related illnesses.
According to Wells (2010), elderly people experience emotional stress as they try to cope with certain events such as loss of loved ones, retirement, and family conflicts. Emotional stress can result into serious mental health problems if the elderly person is socially disconnected with family members and/or other members of the society. Elderly people living in rural areas experience mental health problems differently from those who live in urban areas. In rural areas, the elderly people have high resilience levels of coping with stress, because, they are used to saying alone: many of their family members (young people – their children) live in the metropolitan areas, and visit them on rare occasions. However, they lack strong social networks, which are vital in building healthy mental status (Wells, 2010).
On the other hand, in the urban areas, the elderly people have stronger social networks, hence are able to build resilience to different emotional problems. However, resilience based on stronger social networks is better, compared to self-built resilience. Therefore, elderly people in the urban areas experience mental health problems at a later age: around 80 years, while those living in rural areas, start to face mental health challenges as early as the age of 65 (Wells, 2011). Wells cited a study conducted in 2005 by Nygren and colleagues, which found that, elderly women are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and related illnesses, due to lack of strong resilience, as opposed to their men counterparts. However, as both men and women continue to grow older and older, resilience stops playing an important role in mental health status. According to Mehta et al. (2007), as age increases, resilience loses importance with regard to healthy mental status.
In her study, Wells observed the mental health status of elderly people in rural areas, and in urban areas (2010). The participants were made of elderly people over the age of 65. In the study, it was observed that, generally, elderly people suffered serious mental health problems and related illnesses as they continued to get older. In the early stage of old age (between the ages of 65 and 80), old people in urban areas were reported to suffer less mental health problems. Most of them were found to experience occasional memory lapses, anxiety, and occasional stress after occurrence of certain events.
On the other hand, for the elderly people living in rural areas, many of them were found to have significant symptoms of mental health problems as early as 65 years. Such symptoms included high anxiety levels, complete memory loss, stress, and depression. Wells observed that, the variations between the two groups was because of the difference in resilience levels (2010). Where elderly people living in urban areas may have greater access to social networks from family members, friends, and even from health care providers, elderly people living in rural areas have less access to social networks, as well as less access to medical care, due to inaccessibility of medical facilities, or few medial care providers.
However, beyond the age of 80, elderly people, both in rural and urban areas suffer various mental health problems and related illnesses. In her study, Wells (2010) found that, around 60 percent of elderly people (above 80 years) living both in rural and urban areas, suffer from one or more mental health problem or related illnesses. Common mental health problems included stress, depression, and anxiety disorders. Wells states that, high prevalence rate of mental health challenges among the elderly people above the age of 80 was associated with declining physical health (2010).
In a study of the relationship between apathy, depression, and aging, it was found that, the prevalence rate of apathy and depression increases with age (Mehta et al., 2007). Mehta and colleagues examined one hundred and five elderly people using a Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). The results of the study indicated that, the correlation coefficient of GDS scores and the ages of elderly people below the age of 80 was below 15 percent. This means that, only 15 percent of individuals between the ages of 65 and 80 years experience depression. Conversely, the correlation coefficient of GDS score and the ages of elderly people above the age of 80 was found to be above 40 percent. This means that, around 40 percent of all elderly people aged above 80 years, suffer from mental health problems. These findings were consistent with Wells findings that, mental health problems in the elderly people increase with increase in age. The older an individual is, the higher the likelihood to experience one or more mental health problem, especially depression. In addition, Mehta and colleagues observed that, increased depression among the elderly was due to reduced resilience, increased disability due to declining physical health, and increased apathy.
According to Kruse and colleagues (2003), the prevalence rate of chronic illnesses, especially diabetes, is usually high among the old people. A disease such as diabetes requires strict management of the treatment by the patients themselves. Since many old people are not physically active, they may be unable to manage the disease effectively, hence increasing the risk of complications. Lack of proper management of diabetes is associated with direct effects on brain functions, mental impairment, and decreased quality of life. Epidemiological studies indicate that, there are higher prevalence rates of depression and anxiety disorder among the elderly people suffering from diabetes (Kruse et al., 2003). Similarly, studies indicate that, there are common cases of elderly people suffering from hyperglycemia, which is associated with depression. In their study, Kruse and colleagues examined a group of diabetic patients aged between 18 and 80. The aim of the study was to find out the prevalence rate of depression and anxiety disorders in diabetic patients. In the study, diabetic patients aged above 65 years were found to have a prevalence rate of 5.3 percent of depression and anxiety disorders, as opposed to those below the age of 65 years, whose prevalence rate for depression and anxiety disorders was 3.4 percent (Kruse et al., 2003). This meant that, every five elderly individuals (above 65 years) for every 100 elderly individuals suffering from diabetes were suffering from either depression or anxiety disorder. As indicated previously, high prevalence rate of mental health problems was due to lack of proper disease management, due to declining physical health.
A study conducted in Thailand and Sweden in the year 2010 indicated that, men and women above the age of 60 suffered more from mental health problems and related illnesses than other age groups in the two communities (Nygren et al., 2010). Where the Thailand participants were commonly widowed women with children, while those from Sweden were married women between the ages of 60 and 80 years, there were no differences in their resilience. The two groups of participants indicated high prevalence rates of mental health problems due to reduced resilience, which declined with increase in age (Nygren et al., 2010). However, results of the study indicated that, elderly women had high prevalence rates of depression and stress, than elderly men. This is because, in Thailand, there are many widowed elderly women than men. Therefore, after the death of their spouses, many of them have trouble coping with the loss of their loved ones. This situation results into stress, which in return, causes depression among the elderly women (Nygren et al., 2010). On the other hand, women are known to be more emotional than men are. Therefore, during old age, they tend to worry more about certain events such as family conflicts, and the welfare of their children after the death of the parents, among others. Excess worry over events causes psychological disturbance, resulting into mental problems such as stress, depression, and anxiety disorder (Nygren et al., 2010). This is the main cause of high prevalence rate of mental health problems among elderly women in Sweden.
From the studies, it is clear that, there is a strong relationship between aging and mental health problems. Elderly people in their early old age (between 65 years and 80 years), do not have high prevalence rates of mental health problems. However, some cases of partial memory loss, anxiety, and stress are present among elderly people aged between 65 and 80. However, the prevalence rate of mental health problems and related illnesses is high among the elderly people aged over 80. This group of elderly people suffers from total memory loss, stress, depression, and anxiety disorders. They also experience mental health related illnesses such as chronic diabetes and hyperglycemia. Nevertheless, mental health problems and related illnesses are common among the elderly due to declining physical health, and low emotional resilience during old age. Indeed, the likelihood of suffering mental health problems and related illnesses increase with increase in old age.