Mental Health of the Elderly

Having good mental health throughout life does not ensure immunity from severe depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety disorders and other disorders in the senior years of life. In fact, some studies show elderly people are at greater risk of mental disorders and their complications than are younger people. However, many of these illnesses can be accurately diagnosed and treated.

  • From 15 to 25 percent of elderly people in the United States suffer from significant symptoms of mental illness.
  • The highest suicide rate in America is among those aged 65 and older. In 1985, this age group represented 12 percent of the total U.S. population, but accounted for 20 percent of suicides nationwide. That means close to 6,000 older Americans kill themselves each year.
  • Worldwide, elderly people lead the World Health Organization’s list of new cases of mental illness: 236 elderly people per 100,000 suffer from mental illness, compared to 93 per 100,000 for those aged 45 to 64, the next younger group.
  • Severe organic mental disorders afflict one million elderly people in this country and another two million suffer from moderate organic disorders.

Sadly, many of the nation’s elderly are reluctant to seek psychiatric treatment which could cure or alleviate their symptoms and return them to their previous level of functioning. Why? Many older people don’t understand mental illnesses or acknowledge that they even exist. They feel ashamed of their symptoms or else feel that they are an inevitable part of aging. Medicare, which sets the standard for health care insurance coverage, has traditionally discriminated against psychiatric care by offering a low level of benefits. Elderly people, their loved ones and friends and often their own doctors fail to recognize the symptoms of treatable mental illness in older people. They blame them on “old age” or think nothing can be done to alleviate the problem. As a result:
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