Mental health and support as you get older

Many older people think they will lose their independence if they admit to being forgetful, depressed or confused. It is rarely the case. You are more likely to be supported in your own home than encouraged to go into a care home or hospital.

Where to get help

The best place to start is at your doctor's, who will make an initial 'assessment'. The doctor will talk to you about your thoughts and feelings, check whether an illness might be responsible for your problems and consider what treatment may work for you.

The most common mental health problems as you get older are dementia and depression.

Dementia

Dementia is caused by different diseases that affect brain function. These include Alzheimer's disease and stroke.

Many people think they have dementia just because they forget some details. But stress, depression and ageing can affect your memory. Most people don't experience dementia.

Dementia is usually a gradual loss in being able to reason and remember. People with dementia may:

  • become forgetful
  • lose concentration easily
  • not recognise familiar faces and objects
  • experience mood changes
  • have problems reading and writing

If you are worried, go to your doctor. Make sure you are clear and concise with your doctor - you can take someone with you or make a list of your symptoms if it helps.

Treatment for dementia

Although many causes of dementia are not curable, there is treatment and support that can help slow the progression of the illness and improve people's quality of life.

There are local specialist services that will be able to visit you in your own home to offer advice and support. Your doctor will be able to tell you more when they make a diagnosis.

Depression

Everyone feels 'the blues' at some point in their lives. Most of the time it passes in a few days but if the feelings do not pass in a few weeks, it's important you see your doctor.

Lifeline has information about services available to help people who are in crisis, despair or emotional distress. Lifeline's 24/7 helpline is free:

Treatment for depression

There are various treatments for depression, including counselling, psychotherapy, and medication. If your doctor only offers you medication ask about the other treatments available.

There are also alternative treatments like acupuncture and exercise that may be useful. Some of these treatments are available on the NHS.

Medication for dementia or depression

If your doctor discusses medication with you, you have the right to talk about the options available and ask about any side effects. You can ask for a second opinion if you are not comfortable with the information you are given.

You are entitled to be referred for treatment and you can say that you would like to be added to the waiting list however long the wait.

Prevention

There is no definite way to prevent dementia or depression. However, research shows that if you exercise, have a healthy diet, keep your brain active and take care of yourself, you are less likely to experience a mental health problem.

You may already be exercising and there is no reason to stop. Research shows that a loss of fitness is down to lifestyle – not age. You may need to change the type of exercise you do but those who exercise are less likely to become depressed.

Plans for the future

Most people find peace of mind in planning for the future. You might like to consider:

Support

You may find further support from a variety of sources including local health services, charities, voluntary organisations and local groups.

Support for carers

The job of a carer is challenging. Carers should ensure that their own health needs, both physical and emotional, are met so that they are better placed to carry out the caring role.

Other mental health information

Mental health is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act and more information on mental health is available in the health and well-being section.

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