Skip to main content

Today more than ever, average life expectancy is increasing, all thanks to growing technological advancements and medical breakthroughs. 

In New Zealand, the older population aged 65+, which was about 16% in 2020, is projected to increase by 21–26 per cent in 2048 and 24–34 per cent in 2073. 

This should be good news, which evokes pictures of a quiet retirement, gray hairs, ancient wisdom and rocking chairs.

But unfortunately, not everyone’s experience of getting older is as idyllic. Mobility, chronic pain, illnesses and mental health challenges are becoming increasingly more pronounced at this stage of life. 

Over the years, elderly mental health challenges have seen an upward swing. 

This has been further exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19, which brought with it serious lockdowns and social restrictions that forced people into isolation and loneliness – two factors that have been shown to contribute to declining mental health issues.

Elderly mental health issues to watch out for

As people age, they often experience a loss of social support, which can be due to the death of friends or spouses, declining health that prevents them from getting out and about, or moving to a retirement home. 

And before long, if not properly managed, feelings of isolation and loneliness begin to creep in and eventually snowball into other mental challenges such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Memory problems
  • Cognitive decline
  • Mood disorder and
  • Depression

While elderly mental health issues have been widespread for a long time and have remained a public health concern, recently this has received greater attention due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on this population group. 

Strategies for improving elderly mental health

Because elderly mental health challenges can profoundly impact an individual’s quality of life, they should not be taken lightly. 

Hence, it is necessary to take proactive steps to improve the mental well being of the elderly.

1. Forming and maintaining strong social connections

Whether in an aged care facility or at home, it is vital for the elderly to have the warm support of friends and family around them. 

You cannot underestimate the impact of speaking regularly with family, joining social clubs and groups, participating in volunteering activities, or attending religious gatherings on a senior’s mental health and well being.

2. Keeping the mind active through mental exercises and engaging activities

Psychologists often recommend a ‘use it or lose it’ approach when it comes to keeping the mind sharp in old age. 

Activities like reading, playing mind-stimulating games, doing puzzles, learning new skills and participating in discussion groups can all help keep the mind active and healthy.

3. Staying physically active

There is a strong link between physical activity and mental health. 

Exercise can help to improve mood, self-esteem and sleep quality while also reducing stress, anxiety and depression. 

Elderly people who are physically active also tend to have a better quality of life and are less likely to experience loneliness and social isolation.

4. Accessing quality healthcare services

Where there is already a case of mental health issues, it is essential for the person involved to access professional help. 

It is important that friends, family and carers look out for the elderly person and raise any areas or issues of concern in regards to their mental health.

In such cases, medication and therapy can be very helpful in managing the condition and helping the individual live a fulfilling life.

Keeping elderly mental health needs top of mind

Elderly mental health is a growing concern in today’s society. 

With a relatively large aging population and the outbreak of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to take proactive steps to improve the mental well being of elderly people. 

Both preventive and curative strategies are essential in this regard. 

And while the elders themselves are encouraged to take action, it is also important for society—especially family, friends, and caregivers—to break the stigma around mental health issues in later life and promote a more open and supportive attitude towards the elderly. 

At the same time, the government should also implement policies, programs, and healthcare packages to better support this ageing population.