Dr. Allison Ilem, PhD, BCBA
Watch the WZZM Senior Wellness Segment on this topic.
Healthy aging rests on the cornerstone of emotional wellness. Living well involves identifying what’s most important to us, making the best of what we need to continue these important life-giving activities, and engaging supports to deal with the rest. But when this goes awry, we can start to feel down or blue. We can worry about the future. We can feel hopeless.
The most common mental health conditions for older adults are anxiety and depression. Contrary to popular belief, these conditions are not a part of normal aging. Actually, older adults are less likely to experience anxiety and depression than other age groups. But when they do, mental health conditions can take a big toll on health and wellness. Emotional suffering can worsen chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and make it harder to function day-to-day. At their worst, anxiety and depression can lead to suicide – and older adults, especially men, are among the highest risk group. Mental health conditions can be difficult to distinguish in older adults, as they often look like physical symptoms (like pain, fatigue, nausea, irritability) instead of sadness or crying. The good news is that mental health conditions are treatable, and older adults benefit just as much from mental health care as younger adults. There are many things that can be done to improve emotional wellness. Here are a few points to consider:
Identify when mental/emotional health issues become a problem.
Although it’s common for all people to experience some sadness or worry as a part of normal daily life, we should look for signs these issues are having a prolonged (more than a few days or weeks) or significant impact on us. This includes pulling away from friends, family and others in our community, becoming irritable or having noticeable changes in behavior, or stopping necessary responsibilities in or outside the home.
Start the conversation.
Some people think that talking about it might make it worse or put ideas in someone’s head that aren’t already there. This is a common myth. Starting the conversation can be hard but leading with compassion can get the conversation going and open new opportunities. Share that you care about the person, have noticed changes, and are worried about how they might be feeling. Share that you’re interested in partnering with them to get help.
Talk to a doctor.
Share with a doctor what you or your loved one has been experiencing. Ask specifically about ways of addressing emotional or mental health concerns. Discuss the risks and benefits of different types of treatments. Discuss how emotional health relates to other health conditions.
Know your options.
There are multiple options to help with emotional wellness. These includes counseling or therapy, medicine, exercise, or connecting with more enjoyable and meaningful activities. A professional can help you sort through which option is right for you.
Stigma is a sense of disgrace connected with emotional issues. There are many factors, including individual, cultural, and generational influences that keep stigma alive. Know that having emotional distress or behavioral health needs does not reflect poorly on you or your loved ones. Many people experience these concerns at one time or another. Suffering alone makes it worse and knowing when to reach out for help is a strength.
Know you are never alone. Help is available. And, reaching out is the first step.
About LifeCircles PACE
A Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE®), LifeCircles is a partnership of Porter Hills, Mercy Health Partners and Senior Resources. It is the only program of its kind serving residents in this community. We serve Muskegon and Northern Ottawa county seniors through our Muskegon campus and the rest of Ottawa county (except Jenison & Grandville which are served by the PACE program in Grand Rapids) and much of Allegan county through our Holland campus. As we age, it becomes even more important to take care of our health—and the social connections that give life warmth and meaning. LifeCircles offers seniors who qualify for a nursing home level of care the option to stay at home with social and medical supports.
Learn more at lifecircles-pace.org, or call 231-733-8655 or 616-582-3100