As Canada’s population continues to age, mental health services and supports for seniors is becoming a greater priority. Currently, 13 percent of the population is 65 years of age or older.
By 2016, there will be six million seniors in Canada, composing 16 percent of the population. By 2036 nearly one out of every four Canadians will be a senior, outnumbering children for the first time in history (Statistics Canada, 2010). In Ontario, there are now approximately 1.5 million seniors, representing 40 percent of Canada’s seniors. That number is expected to double by 2028. (Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat, 2003).
Many seniors lead fulfilling lives without significant physical or cognitive changes. They welcome the opportunity to pursue interests and activities that were previously restricted by the responsibilities of work and family. Approximately one-fifth of Canadian men and women aged 55 to 64 and 65 to 74 report that they are satisfied with their life and that they are in good health (Statistics Canada, 2005).
But for others, the challenges that come with aging can be debilitating. Physical ailments, mobility issues, chronic pain, cognitive and sensory impairments can affect one’s functional ability. Other challenges such as retirement, changes in income, widowhood, the loss of friendships through death, and new caregiving responsibilities can lead to social and emotional isolation.
Depression in seniors is common, but it is often more difficult to recognize, and therefore tends to be under diagnosed. Depression may occur in the context of caregiving. An older adult can become overwhelmed when providing care to an aging spouse or family member. Women tend to experience more caregiving demands than men do, and as a result
Although bipolar disorder usually starts when people are in their early twenties, milder forms may not be diagnosed until a person is in their forties or fifties. If you have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder earlier in your life, it may recur as you age.
While anxiety disorders occur throughout the lifespan, most anxiety disorders are somewhat less common and often less severe in persons over 65 years of age.
Dementia is a term used for a group of symptoms associated with non-treatable, irreversible, progressive illnesses that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Late-life dementia interferes with a person’s ability to function normally in social and occupational settings.
Addiction to alcohol or drugs and elder abuse may also affect seniors. Suicide is sometimes a consequence. These problems are often related to mental disorders. Seniors’ mental health issues also affect family members, many of whom experience caregiver stress and develop physical and mental health problems of their own.
Doctors, service providers and caregivers may dismiss symptoms as a natural part of the aging process, or incorrectly consider depression a normal response to a physical illness. Sometimes mental health symptoms can show up as physical complaints in seniors as they are less likely to say they feel depressed. Contrary to popular belief, depression is not a normal part of aging. Many seniors may not realize that they need mental health treatment, or may feel too embarrassed to ask for help due to the stigma associated with mental illnesses.
Where Are Seniors Living and Being Cared For?
The increasing seniors’ population has also led to dramatic increases in the number of seniors living in long-term care institutions. Seniors aged 85 and older compose the fastest growing segment of the population. According to Statistics Canada, 38 percent of women and 24 percent of men 85 years and older live in an institution (Statistics Canada, 2005). Recent studies have identified that between 90 and 90 percent of older seniors living in long-term care institutions suffer from a mental disorder. Yet in Ontario, 88 percent of these institutions receive only five hours or less of psychiatric services per month for the entire resident population
For many seniors, home care is the preferred method of receiving care. As one of the fastest growing sectors in health care, provincial budgets for this service have doubled in recent years, representing 4.3 percent of total provincial and territorial government expenditures.
Promoting Mental Health
Mental health, which refers to an individual’s sense of well-being, control over their life and ability to interact positively with others, has been shown to affect physical health and the use of health care services. Research also indicates that promoting and maintaining mental health among seniors has a positive impact on their overall health and well-being and significantly affects quality of life.