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Elderly Mental Health: 5 Myths That Prevent Older Adults from Getting Treatment

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Few people realize that senior mental health issues are actually treatable. This is often the result of the stereotypical stigma placed on the aging, blaming dementia for everything from depression to periodic bouts of absentmindedness. As a result, many myths have arisen, which have been the underlying reason why more of our older adults have failed to get the treatment they need to live the quality of life they deserve. Here are five of the most common myths surrounding senior mental health.

Myth #1: Senility (Dementia) Is a Normal Part of Aging

When it comes to elderly mental health statistics, one of the most common myths is that it is normal for elderly adults to suffer from varying degrees of dementia as they age. This is absolutely not true! In fact, this is one of the most prevalent misunderstandings that prevent them from getting treatment. Memory loss and loss of cognitive function are not always attributed to dementia, and sometimes there is even an organic cause for absent-mindedness or lack of memory.

Dementia is inaccurately thought to be an issue resulting from Alzheimer’s disease, but, leading experts on aging have stated that sometimes symptoms of dementia are the result of vascular dementia – or in laymen’s terms, a stroke. Sometimes, mental acuity deteriorates because of a series of tiny strokes, called subcortical vascular dementia in the medical community.

The most recent statistics show that only 10% of seniors are living with Alzheimer’s, and although the numbers appear to be growing, it is actually due to the increasing number of Boomers reaching senior years, as opposed to Alzheimer’s spreading rapidly. Some of the signs and symptoms we equate with Alzheimer’s may actually be the result of other issues, such as the sudden onset of depression due to the loss of a spouse. Cognitive impairment is associated with depression at any age and is not reserved for the elderly.

Myth #2: Depression Is Common among Older Adults and/or Untreatable


While depression can be more severe in the elderly than it is in younger adults, it is not necessarily more prevalent in the elderly population. Actually, about one-fifth of the elderly population suffers from some sort of mental issue, according to the American Psychological Association and 37 percent of those may have depression severe enough to lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, depression is treatable, but not when it is misdiagnosed.

Sometimes depression worsens due to the onset of dementia, but expert psychological and psychiatric treatment can often relieve suicidal thoughts. If you are concerned about senior suicidal statistics, it helps to be aware of triggers such as:

  • Retirement and lack of activity.
  • Loss of a spouse.
  • Certain medications.
  • Physical illness.
  • Isolation when living alone, especially after the death of a spouse.
  • Fear of dying.
  • The family history of depression and other mental health issues.

Myth #3: Addiction Is Not an Elderly Mental Health Problem

Substance addiction is a growing problem in all segments of society but is often unrecognized in the elderly. While there is some degree of controversy as to whether substance abuse is rooted in physiological or psychological issues, the fact remains that substance abuse in older adults can be treated if accurately diagnosed.

Sometimes, substance abuse has been an issue for many years leading up to senior years, and other times, issues leading to substance abuse are caused by the same triggers as depression. The sad fact remains that substance abuse is not often thought to be a problem among seniors. Consequently, it can be left undiagnosed and untreated.

Key statistics on substance abuse in the elderly include:

  • Up to 11 percent of seniors admitted to the hospital result directly from substance abuse.
  • More than 2.5 million seniors are substance abusers.
  • Almost half of all nursing home patients have issues stemming from alcoholism.
  • As many seniors are admitted to hospitals for substance abuse problems as for heart attacks.
  • Benzodiazepines are the most commonly misused prescriptions among seniors.

Myth #4: Seniors Don’t Respond Well to Senior Mental Health Treatment Because They Are Set in Their Ways

Altogether too often we hear how rigid and set in their ways seniors are, which leads to the perception that elderly mental health issues are untreatable. In actuality, this is not the case at all. Seniors can suffer because well-meaning loved ones don’t see the logic in getting help for someone they feel won’t respond well to therapy. If you look at the statistics, you will see that seniors are much more willing to stay in touch with things like technology than we give them credit for.

According to new research conducted by Pew Research Center and reported on CNN News, one-third of seniors don’t use the Internet. While that seems like a high number, remember that this figure leaves two-thirds that do go online, at least occasionally. If 66 or 67 out of every 100 seniors utilize technology to stay connected, they are much less rigid and set in their ways than we give them credit for.

Myth #5: Seniors Are Beyond Functional Years So Why Get Them Treatment?

Finally, there is a preconceived notion that seniors have outlived their functional years. With this erroneous mindset, why would you want to get them into therapy? If there is nothing left to do in life, why bother? That is a grave error in judgment. Statistics indicate that many older adults stay healthy simply because they are active and contributing members of society.

Senior mental health may be strengthened by such things as:

  • Volunteering to stay active in the community.
  • Babysitting grandchildren and great-grandchildren, keeping them active and ‘young at heart.’
  • Being active in civic and community affairs strengthens a feeling of usefulness.

Staying active can often counteract depression and will go a long way to forestalling dementia in many cases. Nothing exercises the mind more than activity. For this reason, therapists help seniors find ways to stay as active as their respective physical health allows for.

Obviously, those seniors with mobility issues cannot be as active as those who are able to get around unassisted, but even then, it is possible to find activities suited for seniors with disabilities.

Senior Mental Health Services at Desert Parkway Behavioral Health Hospital

Whether you or a loved one is facing the consequences of aging, our highly trained and caring staff at Desert Parkway Behavioral Health Hospital is here for you. Feel free to browse our site to familiarize yourself with our services, or stop by to talk to our caring mental health professionals who make it their life’s work to provide the care you need at this point in your life.

We are available 24/7. Call 877-663-7976. Hablamos español.