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Tips for Older Adults to Protect Their Mental Health

Friday, May 15, 2020

Older woman blowing bubbles. May is Older Americans Month and Mental Health Month.In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. this month marks two important observances: Older Americans Month and Mental Health Month. In honor of both, NewBridge Services offers advice for promoting mental health in older adults. 

“The pandemic and related social distancing restrictions are creating triggers for mental health problems,” said NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden, a licensed clinical social worker. “It’s more important than ever for seniors, especially people already dealing with mental illness, to learn coping skills and seek help.”

About 10,000 people a day turn 65 and by 2035, seniors will outnumber children for the first time in our country’s history. It’s estimated that one in five older adults in the U.S. are dealing with mental illness, substance use disorder, or both. Anxiety, depression, and alcohol/drug misuse are among the threats facing older adults.

Older adults, especially, may find it tougher to connect with friends and family during the pandemic. A recent study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that seniors who feel lonely may have a higher risk of depression, heart disease and mortality. 

Intervention can turn the tide.

Signs of Depression in Older Adults

Seniors, as well as loved ones, can be on the lookout for signs that they (or family members) are showing signs of depression. Here’s a list from the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or feeling stressed
  • Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  •   Suicidal thoughts*

*If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–TALK (8255), or New Jersey’s round-the-clock suicide prevention hotline at NJ HOPELINE, 1-855-654-6735. Crisis chat is accessible through the website.

Healthy Choices for Older Adults

Healthy behaviors can help to protect against or lessen depression and anxiety (but not always. If the feelings are intense, seek help immediately.)

  • Exercise daily
  • Get regular sleep nightly
  • Eat balanced meals 
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Learn how your prescriptions interact with other medications
  • Schedule and track medication intake
  • Connect with a relative or friend daily
  • Do an activity that brings you joy
  • Limit your news consumption
  • Find a volunteer opportunity to do by phone or online
  • Take deep breaths, exhaling slowly, for several minutes, anytime you feel stressed

If you feel lonely or overwhelmed, call the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0016. It is both a crisis intervention hotline and a warmline for non-emergency emotional support calls.

Click here for more techniques to help seniors cope with the stress of the pandemic.

NewBridge Services’ licensed clinicians are conducting telehealth counseling sessions; call (973) 316-9333 to schedule an appointment. (NewBridge accepts most insurances.)

NewBridge supports more than 200 seniors in Morris County, providing them support to remain independent in their homes through its NewBridge Senior Assistance for Independent Living (SAIL) program. NewBridge also runs a free program called Tame the Pain that teaches Morris County seniors about the risks of prescription opioid use and effective opioid-free pain management options.

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© 2020 Newbridge Services. E-mail And Voicemail Cannot Replace Counseling.