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Navigating Mental Health Issues in Older Adults

  • What can trigger mental health issues in older adults?
  • 12 symptoms of mental health conditions in older adults
  • How to talk to an older person about their mental health
  • In-home support for an older loved one in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

Mental health in older adults in Canada continues to be a concern for families and health advocates. The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario estimates that between 17 and 30 percent of people over 65 experience some form of mental health condition. With the expected rise in the older adult population over the next few years, we need to be sure to provide the support our older loved ones need.


With knowledge and diligence, families can be vigilant of any potential changes in their older relatives and take action to help them get the treatment they need to maintain a healthy, happy quality of life.

What can trigger mental health issues in older adults?

Stress can affect anyone at any age, but the typical emotional and physical stresses associated with aging can add to risk factors for mental health conditions in older people. It’s important to be aware of the triggers that can affect the mental well-being of older people, especially if they live alone or are unable to socialize as they once did.


According to the World Health Organization and the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, there are many potential triggers to mental health issues in older adults, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Dementia-causing illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Illness or loss of a loved one
  • Long-term illness diagnoses, such as cancer or heart disease
  • Physical disability or loss of mobility
  • Side effects of medications
  • Physical illnesses that can affect emotion, memory, and thought
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Poor diet or malnutrition

If left unchecked, these triggers could manifest into a mental health issue that will require medical or therapeutic intervention.

12 symptoms of mental health conditions in older adults

Although many changes can be expected as a person ages, it’s crucial to be aware of possible mental health condition symptoms when visiting an older relative.

For example, occasional forgetfulness is normal. However, persistent memory loss could indicate something more serious. People can have good or bad days in terms of mood, but ongoing sadness for more than two weeks should be addressed.

Here are 12 symptoms to watch for that could indicate a mental health condition in an older person:

  1. Changes in appearance, hygiene, or dress
  2. Confusion, disorientation, or problems with concentration or decision-making
  3. Downcast mood for longer than two weeks
  4. Social withdrawal or lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  5. Ongoing fatigue, loss of energy, or changes in sleep patterns
  6. Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  7. Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  8. Change in maintaining the house or yard
  9. Weight loss
  10. Increase or decrease in appetite
  11. Short-term memory loss
  12. Physical problems such as pain, constipation, or other condition that cause of which can’t otherwise be explained

If you notice any of these symptoms in an older loved one, don’t hesitate to seek further assistance from their family doctor.

Getting the older person to make an appointment with their doctor starts with talking to them about your concerns. Speaking with an older person about mental health might seem like a daunting prospect at first. However, when carried out with love and empathy, talking about it can be a positive first step to helping them solve a possible mental health condition.

It’s important to note that you should never try to diagnose mental health conditions on your own or based on medical information you researched on Google. Only a doctor can make the proper assessment and recommend the best course of action to help your loved one return to feeling like themselves again.


How to talk to an older person about their mental health

It can be difficult to bring up the topic of mental health with someone, especially when the person we’re concerned about is a parent or other older relative. You may be worried that you’ll upset or offend them or that they’ll get defensive. 


However, it’s unhealthy for you to keep your feelings bottled up inside. Older people tend to be open-minded about these things, and your loved one will likely appreciate your concern.


Here are some tips that will help keep communication open, healthy, and positive:

  • Understand that you’re not responsible: You may feel responsible for their condition or for helping your older loved one to feel better. Only the older person can help themselves with the help of a mental health professional.   
  • Research about mental health in the elderly: There are some great online resources where you can learn more about mental health in older people, such as the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association. This information will help you understand what’s going on and find support if you need it.
  • Talk to them when their mood is positive: Bring up the topic when the person doesn’t seem upset, angry, or depressed. Start small and expand the discussion over time.
  • Share your concerns with love, empathy, and honesty: Let them know what’s on your mind. You can start with, “Mom, I know you’ve been crying a lot and have stopped going outside. Is there something on your mind or would you like to talk about how you’re feeling?”
  • Seek help from others: You might find comfort in speaking to someone else before talking to your older relative, such as a sibling, another family member, trusted friend, religious leader, or medical professional. Their support can help bolster you with different perspectives that will help the conversation go easier.
  • Offer the older adult your support: Remind your loved one that you’re always there if they need to talk. You can also offer to accompany them to visit their doctor. Make sure they know that their health and well-being are a priority to you. Your support will remind them that they’re not alone.

Above all, remember that you’re not alone either. Support is available to help care for your older loved one when you need it.

In-home support for an older loved one in Toronto, Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

When an older adult close to you has been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you may feel you need extra support to ensure their ongoing health and well-being. 


CareHop specializes in professional, thoughtful, and respectful eldercare services that focus on the specific needs of your older loved one. We can help with medication management, casual companionship, homemaking and meal prep, and healthcare services that support older people


Best of all, you and your family will have peace of mind knowing that your older relative will be well looked after, happy, and enjoying an excellent quality of life full of joy and sunshine.


If you would like more information about our professional elder care services, please reach out to us anytime. We’d love to discuss how our approach to quality elder care can support the health and well-being of your older loved one. 

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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