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As we get older changes in our lives, such as retirement, bereavement or physical illness, can affect our mental health. Most older people don’t develop mental health problem, however, if you’re struggling to manage or not feeling like yourself, there is help available.
Work can bring a sense of purpose and boost self-esteem. It can also bring friendships, give structure and provide financial security.
Even if you’ve looked forward to retiring, it can come with a sense of loss if work gave you a strong sense of identity. If you have a partner, your relationship may change if you’re both adjusting to spending more time at home. You may feel lonely if you enjoyed the social side of work.
The death of someone close can be devastating. Grief affects everyone differently and there’s no right or wrong way to feel or timescale for feeling better.
It’s normal to feel sad, angry, anxious, guilty, shocked or hopeless. There may be feelings of relief or mixed emotions if the person who died was ill for a long time.
Grief can affect people physically including headaches, muscle pains, losing appetite, struggling to sleep or concentrate.
Physical illness or disability
Poor physical health can affect mental wellbeing and quality of life. It can make it harder to get out and do the things you enjoy, which can make you feel depressed or anxious. There are ways to improve physical and mental wellbeing such as eating healthily, doing exercise such as walks or chair based yoga, meeting with other people, volunteering and stopping smoking. You can also talk to your GP for help and advice.
Most older people take some medication and may take more than one. As people get older, they are more susceptible to side effects such as nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite and muscle weakness. Some side effects such as low mood, confusion and delirium can appear to be the symptoms of a mental illness, even though they’re not.
If you’re worried your medicines are causing side effects or don’t think you need them anymore, arrange a medicine review with your GP.
While everyone can feel lonely at times, some experiences of older age may make it more likely: the death of someone close, health problems that make it harder to get out, retirement or being a carer.
There is advice on staying connected, meeting new people and valuing time spent on your own. Organisations like Age UK and Independent Age have befriending schemes.
Caring for someone can be rewarding but also tiring, time-consuming and costly. It can be easy to neglect your own health while looking after someone else. You can be more vulnerable to developing stress, depression or anxiety.
There is help available. Independent Age has more information on practical, financial and emotional support for carers and local Age UKs offer support groups and respite services.
Mental health problems in later life
While it’s possible to develop any mental health condition in later life, some are more common than others. The organisations at the bottom can provide more information on how to look after your mental health.
One in four older people experience depression, but fewer than one in six seek help from their GP.
Common symptoms include feeling sad, hopeless, guilty, tearful, worried or unable to enjoy things. Older people often have more physical symptoms, which can include sleep problems, loss of appetite, constipation, tiredness and loss of interest in sex.
Depression isn’t an inevitable part of getting older. Support is available so talk to your GP so they can help you find the right treatment, such as counselling, medication or self-help.
Dementia is a decline in mental ability which affects memory, thinking, problem-solving, concentration and perception.
While there isn’t a cure for dementia, there are treatments that can help people live with it. If you, or someone you know, are concerned you may be experiencing symptoms speak to your GP for advice. You can also do things to reduce your risk of developing it, these include:
- having regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol and having a healthy diet
- staying mentally active by reading, doing puzzles or learning something new
- staying socially active by seeing friends or volunteering
Drinking too much alcohol
Some people may drink more if they are feeling lonely, unwell, in pain, depressed or bored.
Too much alcohol can lead to low mood and anxiety. It can also cause sleep problems, dizziness, and memory problems and damage the liver, heart and brain over time. As people get older their bodies become more sensitive to alcohol, so it’s likely to affect them more than younger people.
If you’re worried about your drinking, talk to your GP.
Self-harm in older people
Don’t Brush It Under the Carpet is a campaign to improve mental wellbeing and raise awareness of self-harm in older people. It is funded by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and aims to reach and support older residents who may be feeling depressed and alone and guide them to the right support for them.
Research shows that older people who self-harm are at 67 times greater risk of suicide than the general older population and almost three times greater than the relative risk of suicide among younger people who self-harm.
More information about Don’t Brush It Under the Carpet.
Age UK Salford offers direct support and services to improve the opportunities, health and wellbeing of older people and carers. You can search their services by category and postcode.
For more detailed advice visit:
- Mental health in later life | Mental Health Foundation
- Your mind matters: Elderly mental health | Age UK
- Loneliness | Independent Age
- Drinkaware Home | Drinkaware for help on understanding if alcohol is putting your health at risk and strategies on how to cut down or stop.
- Salford services - Gaddum
- Older Adult Community Teams | Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS FT
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