Behavioural health tips for older adults

Farma Darya

Older adults experiencing a behavioural health issue such as anxiety or depression may be embarrassed and think they simply need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” but helping them seek help can empower them to live their best lives, according to experts.

“Everyone is different, but there are tools for better health, including therapy, medication and self-care,” said Dr. Lindsay Evans-Mitchell, medical director for behavioural health for Cigna Medicare Advantage based in the US.

The most common behavioural health disorder in older adults is dementia, and its incidence is growing as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Experts project that ans 65 years or older will have dementia by 2030. Anxiety disorders and mood disorders are also common among older people.

Dealing with a behavioural health issue? These self-care tips can help:

1. Find a Provider. “Cognitive disorders, such as dementia and mood disorders, often look the same,” Dr. Evans-Mitchell said. “Only a trained professional can make an accurate diagnosis.” For help finding a provider, reach out to your primary care physician or health plan. Also consider virtual therapy. It’s easy to schedule and offers the convenience of seeing a therapist without leaving home.

2. Nurture Yourself. Good nutrition feeds the body and mind. If you have questions about nutrition for older adults, consult your physician or a registered dietitian. Additionally, drink water throughout the day. “Dehydration can worsen cognitive issues,” Dr. Evans-Mitchell said.

3. Sleep Well. Like all adults, older people need seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. Dr. Evans-Mitchell noted that older people’s tendency to go to bed early, wake up early, and nap throughout the day can disrupt healthy sleep cycles and limit rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, potentially contributing to behavioural health issues.

4. Exercise. Even moderate exercise can improve mental and physical health.

5. Parent a Pet. Caring for pets generates positive emotions and can reduce anxiety. Just petting a dog has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and pets provide a bond that can elevate two feel-good brain chemicals: oxytocin and dopamine. Dogs also encourage people to exercise outdoors.

“Behavioural health issues can be complex and confusing to navigate, but taking positive actions can be empowering,” Dr. Evans-Mitchell said. “It’s never too late to make a new start.”

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