Today there are 800 million people aged 60 and over, all with an increased life expectancy, so, it shouldn't come as a shock to learn that soon there will be more older people on the planet than any other age group. Hence why understanding and improving the mental health of this generation is of significant importance to all of us.
There seems to be a common misconception that mental health issues affecting older people is somewhat normal, acceptable and to be expected. But this is simply untrue, and adhering to such a misunderstanding is only letting down the people who need us the most; the people who raised us, fought for our rights and worked hard for our futures.
One day, if we're lucky, we too will be 'older'. Therefore, it is in all our interests to wake up about this. Not just because we have parents and grandparents, but because we too will grow old; growing older is something we will all face sooner or later. So please, let's not think that this is something that we 'younger' people don't need to concern ourselves with.
We do, and we need to do it now!
As is widely known, a whole host of contributing factors combine to affect a person's mental health: social, demographic, psychological and biological. All of which are significant issues in the lives of older adults.
As we age, we are, unfortunately, more likely to experience the harder side of life, suffering more of the terrible things such as: bereavement, disability, loss of independence and meaningful activity, isolation, loneliness and poverty.
According to the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) report on this issue, the mental health of older adults rests on the promotion of active and healthy ageing, and at the core of this is fighting ageism.
Ageist attitudes assume that older people are 'past their sell-by date'. That they are weak, stupid, boring, irrelevant, smelly... all of which are disgustingly offensive, and only serve to undermine their strength and wisdom. Prejudice and discrimination isolates our older people, preventing them from contributing to society.
In addition to the factors already addressed, another serious issue in the lives of many older people is the abuse and neglect faced by those living within institutions, by health professionals, and even at the hands of family and friends. This week we saw the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability call for an end to 15-minute care and to, instead, offer older adults more personal, patient care. It's worth noting that abuse has many forms: financial, physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, not to mention serious loss of dignity and respect. Older people are vulnerable and we must do more to protect them.
One of the huge health concerns for older adults is dementia. Dementia is the deterioration of memory, thinking and the ability to perform everyday activities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that by 2030 over 65 million people will be living with dementia. Therefore, more funding is urgently required so that we can better understand the disease and the most effective ways of treating the condition.
The other major mental illness facing the older generation is depression. Depression is not a 'normal' part of ageing. It is, however, very common and The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) estimate that 10-16% of elderly people in the community have depression, rising to some 40% of older people in residential and nursing care homes.
Alcoholism, which is said to effect as much as 23% of older adults seen by medical staff (not taking in to account those that don't get diagnosed because of a reluctance to seek medical help, sometimes because of a generational attitude of not wanting to be of a nuisance), is also a huge concern.
It is up to all of us to help improve the wellbeing of older people. We must encourage older adults to be more physically active, to keep socially connected and their brains switched on. We must support them to visit the GP and make efforts to reduce body weight. We should remind them to stop smoking and limit their alcohol intake. We must offer better care, so that they can stay in their own homes for longer, and then, when the time comes, to ensure they all receive person-centred treatment in nursing homes.
This concerns all of us, and there is so much that we can each do to encourage this; pick up the phone and talk to an older relative; smile at a stranger and say 'hello'; help someone with the shopping or to cross the road; open up a conversation when sat next to someone on the bus; visit a local care home and offer to help make the tea; invite a lonely neighbour round for lunch; help someone by picking up a few things for them the next time you visit the supermarket; sign-up to volunteer at a local older person's befriending scheme.
The possibilities are endless, and if we all did one thing to reach out to an older person; encouraging them to lead healthier and more engaged lives, alongside us, we'd be doing a lot, not only for them, but for ourselves and our communities, too.
To find out more about World Mental Health Day 2013 and to download the WFMH report, which contains a wealth of information and tips on improving the mental wellbeing of older adults, please visit the website: wfmh.org/ppWorldMentalHealthDay
In addition, the following websites are also worth a look: