From May 2nd – 8th Canadians are celebrating the 65th Annual Mental Health Week across the country. The Canadian Mental Health Association established this awareness week to help stop the discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness, which is still a common problem and barrier for those seeking treatment.

This Mental Health Week, we think it’s important to discuss mental health issues in relation to the aging population. Seniors’ mental health issues often go unnoticed and therefore, untreated. This is because it can be difficult to distinguish whether a deeper mental health issue exists or whether symptoms are a regular part of the aging process.

Two of the most common mental health issues among the aging population are dementia and depression – in fact, they often go hand-in-hand. Dementia is a condition, which deteriorates memory, cognitive functioning and day-to-day behavior. Many different forms of dementia can occur in the elderly population, but the most common is Alzheimer’s. The impact of dementia on the people experiencing it as well as their caregivers is significant, and can also lead to other mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Depression in older adults can be spurred on by other conditions, but not always. Regardless of its cause, depression in seniors is sometimes overlooked as a result of other physical or mental health issues that may be occurring simultaneously. Older adults facing depression often have difficulty functioning in their everyday life and may even experience physical symptoms as a result.

As yourself or your loved ones age, it’s completely normal to notice some changes. Minor memory decline and forgetfulness happens to the best of us, but it’s important to recognize when these symptoms point to a more serious issue. This same principle applies to changes in mood. It’s completely normal to feel a little blue sometimes! But enduring anxiety and depression is another story.

Here are some common signs and symptoms that caregivers should look out for that may indicate a deeper mental health issue:

  1. Sad, depressed, irritable or anxious mood that persists for longer than two weeks

  2. Sudden and drastic changes in appetite or a sudden weight loss or weight gain

  3. Unexplainable physical problems like aches and pains throughout the body

  4. Changes in sleep patterns or difficulty sleeping

  5. Last but not least, if your loved one is mentioning feelings of worthlessness or having thoughts of suicide, this is likely an indication of a mental health issue and should be addressed immediately

Of course, this list of signs and symptoms is just a guideline and there are many other factors that may point to an issue that needs addressing. Remember, you know yourself and your loved ones better than anyone, so if something just seems off, it may be time to seek help.

There are plenty of resources available in the community for help and support if you are concerned about the mental health of a senior in your life. Between caregivers, family doctors, psychologists, counselors and geriatric service providers, you are definitely not alone!

Make sure to reach out for help whenever you feel you need it, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one. Mental health is a normal part of life and aging. This Mental Health Week, help fight the discrimination and stigma.