Chapter 5
Older Adults and Mental Health

Chapter Overview

Overview of Mental Disorders in Older Adults

Depression in Older Adults

Alzheimer’s Disease

Other Mental Disorders in Older Adults

Service Delivery

Other Services and Supports




  1. Important life tasks remain for individuals as they age. Older individuals continue to learn and contribute to the society, in spite of physiologic changes due to aging and increasing health problems.
  2. Continued intellectual, social, and physical activity throughout the life cycle are important for the maintenance of mental health in late life.
  3. Stressful life events, such as declining health and/or the loss of mates, family members, or friends often increase with age. However, persistent bereavement or serious depression is not “normal” and should be treated.
  4. Normal aging is not characterized by mental or cognitive disorders. Mental or substance use disorders that present alone or co-occur should be recognized and treated as illnesses.
  5. Disability due to mental illness in individuals over 65 years old will become a major public health problem in the near future because of demographic changes. In particular, dementia, depression, and schizophrenia, among other conditions, will all present special problems in this age group:
    1. Dementia produces significant dependency and is a leading contributor to the need for costly long-term care in the last years of life;
    2. Depression contributes to the high rates of suicide among males in this population; and
    3. Schizophrenia continues to be disabling in spite of recovery of function by some individuals in mid to late life.
  6. There are effective interventions for most mental disorders experienced by older persons (for example, depression and anxiety), and many mental health problems, such as bereavement.
  7. Older individuals can benefit from the advances in psychotherapy, medication, and other treatment interventions for mental disorders enjoyed by younger adults, when these interventions are modified for age and health status.
  8. Treating older adults with mental disorders accrues other benefits to overall health by improving the interest and ability of individuals to care for themselves and follow their primary care provider’s directions and advice, particularly about taking medications.
  9. Primary care practitioners are a critical link in identifying and addressing mental disorders in older adults. Opportunities are missed to improve mental health and general medical outcomes when mental illness is underrecognized and undertreated in primary care settings.
  10. Barriers to access exist in the organization and financing of services for aging citizens. There are specific problems with Medicare, Medicaid, nursing homes, and managed care.

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