Living the dream?
Everyone wants to live in a world with limitless vacation days. In reality, only one segment of the population achieves such a lifestyle: retirees.
Once the threshold of retirement is crossed, 40 years of full-time employment seems worth the hard work. However, the romanticism that surrounds this milestone is tempered by physical aches, pains and other conditions that come with age.
Common troubles that plague the aging body include cardiovascular diseases, joint and muscle pains, vision and hearing decline and weight gain or loss. In addition, as the body changes so does the mind.[i] Changes that affect memory, cognitive ability and mood are also common – to a point. Some disruptions to mental processing may be normal but others are symptoms of mental health disorders.
A 2007 survey conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that more than five percent of Americans over the age of 65 have cognitive disorders, including senility.[ii] Furthermore, the study shows how this type of mental degeneration increases with age. While only 1.1 percent of seniors between the ages of 65 and 74 claim to have some sort of cognitive disorder, six percent of seniors between the ages of 75 and 84, and 18.4 percent of people over the age of 85 report such conditions.
As these statistics show, in early years of retirement retirees can expect to “live the dream,” but as years progress mental health issues may arise. Still, there is no need to live in fear. Instead, understand the precautionary measures people take to protect themselves from the onset of mental health disorders. See startling statistics (like those mentioned above and others listed throughout this article) as catalyst to create a senior living plan. Being able to recognize signs of mental illnesses, being prepared to take preventative measures and being open to quality treatment options can encourage a long, healthy life.
Recognize Signs of Mental Illness
Memories seem to increase in value over the course of many years. But what happens when memories start to fade or disappear altogether? Often times, memory loss can be one of the first signs of a more severe mental illness.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “About 25% of adults aged 65 years or older have some type of mental health problem, such as a mood disorder not associated with normal aging.”[iii] This pertains to a myriad of diagnoses. Two of the most prevalent diagnoses include mood and anxiety disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.
Mood and Anxiety Disorders
The American Psychiatric Associations considers depression, “…the most common mental disorder of people aged 65 and older.”[iv] Signs of depression include withdraw, inability to concentrate and appearing confused. In addition, some senior adults struggle with anxiety and mental distress. For those who face frequent mental distress, 6.5 percent of America’s 65 and older population according to CDC, may slack on healthy eating, household maintenance and investing in relationships.[v]
The most talked about, and perhaps most severe neurodegenerative disease is Alzheimer’s. The APA reports, “Only about 10 percent of Americans aged 65 and older suffer from [dementia]. Of that number, an estimated 60 percent suffer from Alzheimer’s disease…”("Seniors"). According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over five million Americans currently struggle with Alzheimer’s. One in nine people over age 65 and one-third of people over 85 have the diagnosis.[vi]
While everyone experiences memory slips, Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to die in the area that controls memory. It also spreads to other parts of the brain that controls cognitive processing, emotions and behavior.
This is an irreversible form of mental illness that the vast majority of people do not experience. A common misconception of aging is that memory loss, confusion and disorientation are inevitable. However, by taking preventative measures it is possible to protect the mind and strengthen the body.
Take Preventative Measures
Health is a high priority for retirees. If it isn’t, it should be. Diet and exercise are important to keeping a sharp memory. In addition, social interactions and activities for the mind are important, too.
Here are four preventative measures that encourage mental health in aging adults.
· Diet – The Mayo Clinic believes, “A heart healthy diet might benefit your brain.” [vii] An article written to seniors mentions that fruits, vegetables and whole grains are valuable components of a daily diet. They also advise consuming lean meats and fish as sources of low-fat protein and encourage seniors to avoid alcohol, as this can “…lead to confusion and memory loss.”
· Exercise – Numerous health benefits are available to those who exercise on a regular basis. CDC recommends[viii] adults break a sweat for two and a half hours with moderate-intensity aerobics. In addition, add weight bearing exercises that include all muscle groups at least two days per week. This ensures blood will continue to pump, energizing the body and brain.
· Mental Activities – Be sure to work out the brain by exercising it regularly. Mayo Clinic recommends using cross word puzzles and playing musical instruments to exercise this essential organ.
· Socialize – Social withdraw is a sign of depression and mental distress. The mind is strengthened when engaging in conversation, using vocabulary and recalling short-term and long-term memories. Also, socialization can lead to emotional support, which benefits the mind and increases quality of life at any age ("The State of Aging & Health in America").
Seek Quality Treatment Options
Remaining active and engaged are two key components to warding off mental disorders, mood disturbances and varying forms of dementia. People over the age of 65 increase their chances of receiving some mental illness diagnoses as they age. Fortunately, many symptoms can be reversed or alleviated when the right course of preventative action is taken.
More than living a proactive lifestyle, it is important to seek emotional support outside of family and friends. Visiting a psychologist or counselor on a regular basis can help a person understand the changes he or she is going through. If there are signs of mental illness, seeing this type of professional may increase chances of early detection ("Seniors").
When equipped with medical support and a preventative plan, a long, refreshing retirement can be expected. Understanding mental illnesses that plague senior adults, putting a healthy living plan in place and investing in a relationship with a therapist is the best way to remain guarded from these diseases.
Some people spend their entire lives looking forward to retirement. Looking out for their mental health may be the best way to truly live the dream.
[i] "Seniors' Health: MedlinePlus." U.S National Library of Medicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seniorshealth.html>.
[ii] "Approximately 5 percent of seniors report one or more cognitive disorders." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/mar11/0311RA33.html>.
[iii] "The State of Aging & Health in America." Center of Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/state-aging-health-in-america-2013.pdf>.
[iv] "Seniors." American Psychiatric Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.psychiatry.org/seniors>.
[v] "The State of Mental Health and Aging in America." The Center of Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf>.
[vi] "2013 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures." Alzheimer's Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2013.pdf>.
[vii] "Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Aging." Mayo Clinic. N.p., 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2014. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/aging/ART-20046070?p=1>.
[viii] "How much physical activity do adults need?." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html>.
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.