Older adults may have experienced mental health or addiction problems when they were younger, or may be experiencing them for the first time. Regardless, these problems may take different forms in older adults and may be confused with normal signs of aging.
Mental health involves finding a balance in all aspects of life: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is the ability to enjoy life and cope with everyday challenges.
Mental health problems or disorders consist of a range of specific conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, actions and mental functioning (e.g., memory). Mental health problems are associated with significant distress and may result in a diminished ability to cope with daily life over an extended period of time.
Some people experience anxiety that is greater than a situation calls for. Their anxiety can be so great that they find it hard to cope with everyday life. Some forms of anxiety problems are more common than others in older adults.
Dementia is an abnormal degeneration of the brain that leads to changes in a person’s ability to think, speak, socialize and take part in normal daily activities.
Older adults who are depressed may have had episodes of depression throughout their lives, or they may have their first episode late in life. Depression can affect anyone at any age, but is often not recognized in older adults. This is because some signs of depression can be mistaken for signs of aging, and also because older adults who are depressed may not complain about feeling low.
People use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs for many reasons. Some use these substances to help them to relax, to feel more lively, to feel less inhibited or to feel pleasure. Some find the effects of substances make it seem easier to cope with problems. Some use substances for religious reasons or to fit in with the crowd. Others may be curious about the effects of a specific drug. Many use prescription and over-the-counter medications to cure or alleviate the symptoms of physical ailments.
Using any of these drugs affects the way a person thinks, acts and feels. Because substance use (including use of prescription medications) is common, it’s important for people to be able to determine when their use puts them at risk of developing a problem.
As people age, they become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.
Over 90 per cent of older adults take some form of medication. Problems can arise if medications are not taken as prescribed, or if a person takes medications that are not prescribed. Long-term regular use of some medications prescribed for anxiety, sleep problems or pain can lead to substance use problems.
Gambling refers to times when people take the chance of losing money or belongings, and when winning or losing is decided mostly by chance.
Gambling can be fun and exciting, but it can also create a variety of problems for older adults.