What to know about elderly mental health What to know about elderly mental health

What to know about elderly mental health

1 in 4 older adults experiences issues with their mental health. Depression and dementia are the most common, affecting 5-7% of those over 60.1 The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that anxiety affects 3.8% of older adults.2

The number of adults over 60 is expected to be 2 billion in 2050, essentially double the 900 million adults aged 60 and up in 2015.3 With the global population aging at a growing rate, it will become increasingly important to understand the issues affecting senior mental health.

Does mental health get worse as one ages?

Mental health and physical health have a strong correlation.4 In aging adults, declines in physical health may affect mental health, as those over 60 adjust to having less independence or adapt to a new living environment.5 There is nothing inherently depressing about aging, but this misperception, coupled with challenges to accessing mental health care and the stigma surrounding it, may create barriers for those who need senior mental health services.6

Mental health issues faced by older adults

Common mental health issues faced by older adults include:


Depression is a mood disorder that may affect the way people feel, act and think. Clinical depression is not a normal part of aging. Studies show most older adults are satisfied with their lives, even if they are experiencing more illnesses or physical problems compared to younger people.7

Depression is a serious condition, treatable with counseling and medications. Seniors may have different signs of depression when compared to younger people. For example, sadness is not always the main symptom of depression in seniors. Instead, they may feel numb and unwilling to talk about feelings. Common symptoms include:8

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood.
  • Irritability or restlessness.
  • Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities.
  • Decreased energy or fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
  • Sleeping issues like waking up too early in the morning or oversleeping.
  • Eating more or less than usual, often with unplanned weight gain or loss.


There are different types of anxiety with differing symptom profiles. Panic attacks and physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or dizziness may indicate a panic disorder. Recurrent unwanted thoughts or compulsive rituals like hand washing, counting or cleaning may be signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.9

Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing or anger may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder. Extreme, disabling and irrational fears may be a symptom of phobia. Generalized anxiety disorder often looks like chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday activities and may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, headache or nausea.10

Dementia and cognitive impairment

Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem solving and other cognitive abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It covers a wide range of specific medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.11

Signs of dementia may vary greatly, but some common symptoms include struggles with:12

  • Short-term memory.
  • Keeping track of a purse or wallet.
  • Paying bills.
  • Planning and preparing meals.
  • Remembering appointments.
  • Traveling out of the neighborhood.

How to help seniors with mental health issues

Talk to them13

If concerned about the mental health of a senior adult, talk to them. Ask how they’re feeling, what changes they’re noticing. Ask if there is anything they are sad or anxious about. Check in often, and pay attention to changes in mood. These conversations provide useful information for determining next steps, but even more importantly, they are an opportunity to listen in a supportive way, making the person feel cared for and valued.

Seek professional help14

Talk to a primary care physician with access to medical history and a current medications list. They may recommend tests and specialists to help determine what is happening. A geriatric psychiatrist may be helpful, as they are trained to recognize and treat age-related mental illness.

Certain medication combinations may cause low energy levels, fatigue, even mood changes and memory loss. Consult with a pharmacist to find out if medication could be playing a role. There are geriatric pharmacists who specialize in medication for people over 60.

Social interaction15

Schedule visits with friends and family to prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness. Add recurring social events to the calendar to maintain the connection. Routine is also a positive factor in maintaining senior mental health, so make a routine out of socializing. Share volunteer interests or hobbies with others, such as exercise, which has additional beneficial effects.

Strong mental health may make all the difference in quality of life for people 60 and older. Take steps to stay engaged and connected. Look for ways to find meaning. Monitor symptoms of mental health issues and reach out for support when needed.

Go365 by Humana® makes wellness fun and easy. We help Humana Medicare members with Go365® on their plan reach health goals as well as take care of their physical and emotional health—allowing members to thrive at any age.

Humana Medicare members with Go365 on their plan can enroll in Go365 at go365.com/Medicare. Humana Medicare Advantage members who have Go365 can sign in here.

Go365 is a well-being and rewards program for many Humana Medicare Advantage members. To learn more about Humana Medicare Advantage, call to speak with a licensed Humana sales agent at 1-844-321-5843 (TTY:711), Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time or visit humana.com/Medicare.

If you need to enroll in Medicare Advantage or change your plan outside of the usual Medicare Annual Election Period, a Special Election Period (SEP) could be the answer. For information on eligibility, visit Humana’s Special Enrollment Period page.

1Dan Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults,” WebMD, last accessed July 28, 2022, https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/mental-health-in-older-adultsOpens in new window.

2“Mental health in older adults,” World Health Organization, last accessed July 28, 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adultsOpens in new window.

3“Mental health in older adults.”

4Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults.”

5Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults.”

6Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults.”

7“Depression and Older Adults,” NIH National Institute on Aging, last accessed July 28, 2022, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/depression-and-older-adultsOpens in new window.

8“Depression and Older Adults.”

9“Anxiety In Older Adults,” Mental Health America, last accessed July 28, 2022, https://www.mhanational.org/anxiety-older-adultsOpens in new window.

10“Anxiety In Older Adults.”

11“What Is Dementia?” Alzheimer’s Association, last accessed July 28, 2022, https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementiaOpens in new window.

12“What is Dementia?”

13Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults.”

14Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults.”

15Brennan, “What to Know About Mental Health in Older Adults.”

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