What is the magnitude of poor mental health? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Furthermore, one in five U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018, per the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
For older adults, that percentage increases to one in four, according to the National Council on Aging. Research from the National Institute of Health (NIH) finds that this gap can be partially attributed to higher levels of social isolation and loneliness in older people.
This discrepancy should be empowering, though. It means that proactive measures can be taken to protect the mental health of senior friends and family members. A little deliberation to carve out time for engagement with our older loved ones can go a long way towards improving their mental wellbeing.
Calls don’t suffice
Can engagements through email, phone and social media curtail older adults’ risk of depression? NIH data says not necessarily. A nationally representative survey could not link telephone or email contact to lower levels of depression. However, the study did find that more-frequent in-person contact is correlated with lower probability of depressive symptoms. Of course, COVID-19 presents new challenges for finding ways to connect in person. Depending on your circumstances and those of senior adult in your life, everyone wearing masks may be an option; or, visiting outside, seeing each other through a window or dropping off meals, groceries or other items and talking for a while with the person inside and you on the porch could work, too.
Pets help, too
Although older adults may not have other humans living with them, four-legged roommates can help fill the void. A National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 88% of pet owners between the ages of 50 and 80 say their pets help them enjoy life, and 86% say their pets make them feel loved. While animals should by no means be a substitute for in person interaction, they could certainly be a supplement.
Keeping tabs is critical
The American Psychological association warns symptoms of depression in older Americans can often be overlooked and untreated when they coincide with other medical illnesses or life events that commonly occur as people age.
Regardless of how many visits older people may receive, understand that if they are living alone, they are increasingly susceptible to depression and other mental health issues. If bouts of depression do come up, it is important that they are detected and treated early.
AllHealth CHOICE can help
Our MyCharlie app offers comprehensive care management with frequent touchpoints to identify any emerging health concerns, including depression, so that they can be addressed proactively.