• Mental
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  • Older Persons Mental Health

    More than half of permanent aged care residents in Australia have symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, as do 45 per cent of those who were admitted to residential aged care for the first time, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Unfortunately, many older persons over the age of 65 still believe there is stigma associated with depression and anxiety and often view them as weaknesses rather than a genuine health condition.

    Risk Factors

    Although many older people experience good mental health, they are at greater risk of anxiety and depression, especially when there is coexisting physical illness including dementia, disability, or difficult life experiences.

    Factors that can increase an older person’s risk of developing anxiety and/or depression include:

    • Social isolation
    • Chronic pain
    • Side-effects from medications
    • Loss: relationships, independence, work and income, self-worth, mobility and flexibility
    • Increase in physical health conditions e.g. heart disease, stroke, Alzeimer’s
    • Significant change in living arrangements e.g. moving from independent living to a care setting
    • Admission to hospital
    • Particular anniversaries and the memories they evoke

    While there is often a combination of factors that contribute to an older person developing anxiety or depression, the most important thing when in a caring role, is to learn to recognise the signs and symptoms and where to get support.

    Signs and Symptoms
    Anxiety in older people

    The symptoms of anxiety in older people are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much. Often older people with anxiety will experience a range of symptoms:


    • Avoiding objects or situations
    • Avoiding eye contact
    • Difficulty making decisions


    • Overwhelmed
    • Fear (particularly when facing certain objects, situations, or events)
    • Worried about physical symptoms (such as fearing there is an undiagnosed medical problem)


    • “I’m going crazy”
    • Having upsetting dreams
    • Finding it hard to stop worrying or intrusive thoughts

    Physical symptoms

    • Vomiting, nausea, or pains in the stomach
    • Increased heart rate
    • Muscle tension and pain
    • Sweating, shaking
    • Numbness or tingling sensation
    • Hot or cold flushes
    • Problem sleeping
    Depression in older people

    An older person may feel depressed if he or she has felt sad, down or miserable most of the time or has lost interest or pleasure in most of his or her usual activities. Older persons with depression tend to present with more than one symptom and most likely to present to a GP with various physical complaints and sleeping difficulties rather than complaints of sadness or low mood.

    Symptoms in older persons may differ somewhat from symptoms in other populations. Depression in older persons is at times characterised by:


    • Neglect of self-care
    • Social withdrawal
    • Memory loss and confusion
    • Lack of motivation
    • Loss of appetite


    • Negative language and comments
    • Lack ability to make a decision
    • Persistent thoughts of suicide or self-harm


    • Irritability or moody, can display as angry or aggressive
    • Sadness, hopelessness or emptiness
    • Confusion

    Physical Symptoms

    • Sleeping more than usual
    • Unexplained aches and pains
    • Weight loss or weight gain
    • Change in bowel habits, digestive upsets and nausea

    Some general clues that someone may be experiencing depression are:

    • persistent and vague complaints
    • help-seeking
    • moving in a slower manner
    • demanding behaviour

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