Life’s later chapters are generally happy ones. But challenges remain in mental health care for older adults, says Taft Parsons, Chief Psychiatric Officer of CVS Health.
Declining mental health and aging don’t go hand in hand. In fact, studies find that older Americans tend to be happier and more content than their younger peers.1 But aging can bring special challenges, and according to the 2021 Health Care Insights Study by CVS Health®, 39% of providers have a high level of concern about the mental health of their patients over 65.2
In fact, other research shows that about 20% of retirement-age Americans have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.3 Many more resist talking to their health care teams about such issues, missing the chance of spotting mental health conditions that might be treated.
Taft Parsons III, MD, Chief Psychiatric Officer for CVS Health, discusses strategies for detecting mental health problems in older adults and how to connect them to care in a timely way.
Are there differences in the mental health issues that older adults face?
Grief and loss can be a prominent part of their psychological experiences — they retire from the workplace and spouses and friends pass away. Dealing with chronic health conditions can also be psychologically challenging. Certain medications associated with aging — such as beta-blockers4 to treat hypertension or proton pump inhibitors5 for gastroesophageal reflux disease — may also lead to symptoms of depression.
There’s also the isolation and loneliness that can come with age, which can have significant adverse effects on mental and physical health. That factor alone can increase the risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression and anxiety.6
So people can carry lifelong mental illness into their later years, and new problems can also arise during this stage of life. We need to be on the lookout for both.