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Debunking The 5 Common Myths About Geriatric Mental Health

Posted: November 16, 2019

People treat growing old as something to be ashamed of. There are also a number of myths related to their mental health. Here are five myths debunked.

Mental health issues in the elderly are quite often treatable. Unfortunately, this is not the popular opinion. As the geriatric population is on the rise their mental and physical healthcare, need significant attention. However, their healthcare is often viewed as a personal challenge by their families and caretakers.

If stigmatising mental health wasn’t enough, there is a huge amount of stereotyping directed towards ageing. Consequently, geriatric mental health is misunderstood, stigmatised, neglected and is even treated improperly.

Many older adults are at the risk of developing mental disorders, neurological disorders or substance use problems. All this, in addition to age-related physiological issues.

Stigma leads to problems not being taken seriously

Over 20 percent of the adults aged 60 and above suffer from some mental or neurological disorder. And 6.6 percent of all the disability among people over 60 years is attributed to mental and neurological disorders.

Anxiety disorders affect 3.8 percent of the older population, substance use problems affect almost 1 percent. At the same time, around a quarter of deaths due to self-harm are among people aged 60 or above.

These issues are under-identified by healthcare professionals. They are not taken seriously by families and patients due to the stigma. All this prevents them from seeking immediate help.

Numerous myths have risen due to societal perceptions regarding geriatric mental health. This article aims to list and debunk the most common ones.

Dementia is a normal part of the ageing process

It is widely believed that as people age, senility sets in. This is considered normal. Now, this myth has left a large number of elderly people undiagnosed because family members did not pay enough attention to the symptoms.

Besides, loss of memory may not always translate to dementia. There might be other causal factors that should be looked into (such as sudden onset of depression or death of a family member).

At times, even a stroke or vascular dementia could cause the cause of lack of memory.

The risk of Alzheimer’s cannot be reduced

The risk of Alzheimer’s can, in fact, be reduced by keeping oneself physically and mentally active. There is a wide range of factors that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and the controllable ones can be modified.

As we age, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity etc. can take a massive toll on us and prevent the preservation of our cognitive skills. Keeping a steady track on one’s overall health can definitely make a difference.

Depression is more common among older adults

As a matter of fact, depression is much more common among young and middle-aged adults. It is a misconception that depression occurs as we age.

However, it is true that depression can be much more severe among older adults and may worsen at the onset of dementia.

It is also believed that depression cannot be treated in the elderly which is untrue. With timely and adequate treatment, symptoms of depression in older adults can be significantly reduced.

Substance abuse is not common among the elderly

This is a popular myth as people have certain set preconceived notions regarding the elderly and substance use among that population. Substance abuse is a steadily growing problem. It is also a product of depression among older adults.

This issue is not identified enough among them and hence does not receive the attention it needs. Alcoholism among the older population is widely prevalent. There are also a large number of hospitalisations due to the overdose of substance abuse as well as heart attacks caused by abuse.

Older adults are difficult to treat

This myth results due to the notion that older adults are adamant to stick to their guns and hence there is no use in trying to bring about a change.

Most of the family members of the patient do not make sincere attempts to get help for their deteriorating mental health. Instead, they blame it on the elderly person’s rigidity.

This is not the case as it has been seen that there can be a good level of flexibility and co-operation displayed by older adults.

Myths have nothing but negative results

Overall, these myths only have negative consequences. Multiple warning signs are either missed or overlooked in the process and the mental health of the patient only worsens.

To top it all, they are often under-diagnosed. All these factors have, often, led to premature deaths among the elderly.

Advocates, policymakers, and healthcare professionals must realise that these issues need to be handled and considered carefully.

Evidence-based diagnostic tools should be utilised to ensure correct intervention. Families must be educated about the facts and briefed about the appropriate ways to deal with their relative’s mental health.

A dynamic population that, contrary to popular belief, still has much to contribute — must receive the care and treatment they rightly deserve.

Shruti Venkatesh is a Research Associate (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

A version of this was first published here.

Picture credits: Unsplash

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