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Older Adult Mental Health

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, including as we age.

Many older adults are at risk for mental health problems. But this does not mean that mental health problems are a normal part of aging. Studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, even though they may have more illnesses or physical problems.

Sometimes, however, important life changes can make you feel uneasy, stressed, and sad. These changes could include the death of a loved one, retirement, or dealing with a serious illness. Many older adults will eventually adjust to the changes. But some people will have more trouble adjusting. This can put them at risk for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

It's important to recognize and treat mental disorders in older adults. These disorders don't just cause mental suffering. They can also make it harder for you to manage other health problems. This is especially true if those health problems are chronic.

Some of the warning signs of mental disorders in older adults include

  • Changes in mood or energy level
  • A change in your eating or sleeping habits
  • Withdrawing from the people and activities you enjoy
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling sadness or hopelessness
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Having thoughts and memories that you can't get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others

If you think that you may have a mental health problem, get help. Talk therapy and/or medicines can treat mental disorders. If you don't know where to start, contact your primary care provider.

Nutrition for Older Adults

What is nutrition and why is it important for older adults?

Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients that it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function and grow. They include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Good nutrition is important, no matter what your age. It gives you energy and can help you control your weight. It may also help prevent some diseases, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

But as you age, your body and life change, and so does what you need to stay healthy. For example, you may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. Some older adults need more protein.

What can make it harder for me to eat healthy as I age?

Some changes that can happen as you age can make it harder for you to eat healthy. These include changes in your

  • Home life, such as suddenly living alone or having trouble getting around
  • Health, which can make it harder for you to cook or feed yourself
  • Medicines, which can change how food tastes, make your mouth dry, or take away your appetite
  • Income, which means that you may not have as much money for food
  • Sense of smell and taste
  • Problems chewing or swallowing your food
How can I eat healthy as I age?

To stay healthy as you age, you should

  • Eat foods that give you lots of nutrients without a lot of extra calories, such as
    • Fruits and vegetables (choose different types with bright colors)
    • Whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice
    • Fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk that has added vitamin D and calcium
    • Seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs
    • Beans, nuts, and seeds
  • Avoid empty calories. These are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol.
  • Pick foods that are low in cholesterol and fat. You especially want to try to avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are usually fats that come from animals. Trans fats are processed fats in stick margarine and vegetable shortening. You may find them in some store-bought baked goods and fried foods at some fast-food restaurants.
  • Drink enough liquids, so you don't get dehydrated. Some people lose their sense of thirst as they age. And certain medicines might make it even more important to have plenty of fluids.
  • Be physically active. If you have started losing your appetite, exercising may help you to feel hungrier.
What can I do if I am having trouble eating healthy?

Sometimes health issues or other problems can make it hard to eat healthy. Here are some tips that might help:

  • If you are tired of eating alone, try organizing some potluck meals or cooking with a friend. You can also look into having some meals at a nearby senior center, community center, or religious facility.
  • If you are having trouble chewing, see your dentist to check for problems
  • If you are having trouble swallowing, try drinking plenty of liquids with your meal. If that does not help, check with your health care provider. A health condition or medicine could be causing the problem.
  • If you're having trouble smelling and tasting your food, try adding color and texture to make your food more interesting
  • If you aren't eating enough, add some healthy snacks throughout the day to help you get more nutrients and calories
  • If an illness is making it harder for you to cook or feed yourself, check with your health care provider. He or she may recommend an occupational therapist, who can help you find ways to make it easier.

NIH: National Institute on Aging

Malnutrition

Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. If you don't get enough nutrients -- including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals - you may suffer from malnutrition.

Causes of malnutrition include:

  • Lack of specific nutrients in your diet. Even the lack of one vitamin can lead to malnutrition.
  • An unbalanced diet
  • Certain medical problems, such as malabsorption syndromes and cancers

Symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness, and weight loss. Or, you may have no symptoms. To diagnose the cause of the problem, your doctor may do blood tests and a nutritional assessment. Treatment may include replacing the missing nutrients and treating the underlying cause.

Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle

What is an inactive lifestyle?

Being a couch potato. Not exercising. A sedentary or inactive lifestyle. You have probably heard of all of these phrases, and they mean the same thing: a lifestyle with a lot of sitting and lying down, with very little to no exercise.

In the United States and around the world, people are spending more and more time doing sedentary activities. During our leisure time, we are often sitting: while using a computer or other device, watching TV, or playing video games. Many of our jobs have become more sedentary, with long days sitting at a desk. And the way most of us get around involves sitting - in cars, on buses, and on trains.

How does an inactive lifestyle affect your body?

When you have an inactive lifestyle,

  • You burn fewer calories. This makes you more likely to gain weight.
  • You may lose muscle strength and endurance, because you are not using your muscles as much
  • Your bones may get weaker and lose some mineral content
  • Your metabolism may be affected, and your body may have more trouble breaking down fats and sugars
  • Your immune system may not work as well
  • You may have poorer blood circulation
  • Your body may have more inflammation
  • You may develop a hormonal imbalance
What are the health risks of an inactive lifestyle?

Having an inactive lifestyle can be one of the causes of many chronic diseases. By not getting regular exercise, you raise your risk of

  • Obesity
  • Heart diseases, including coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers, including colon, breast, and uterine cancers
  • Osteoporosis and falls
  • Increased feelings of depression and anxiety

Having a sedentary lifestyle can also raise your risk of premature death. And the more sedentary you are, the higher your health risks are.

How can I get started with exercise?

If you have been inactive, you may need to start slowly. You can keep adding more exercise gradually. The more you can do, the better. But try not to feel overwhelmed, and do what you can. Getting some exercise is always better than getting none. Eventually, your goal can be to get the recommended amount of exercise for your age and health.

There are many different ways to get exercise; it is important to find the types that are best for you. You can also try to add activity to your life in smaller ways, such as at home and at work.

How can I be more active around the house?

There are some ways you can be active around your house:

  • Housework, gardening, and yard work are all physical work. To increase the intensity, you could try doing them at a more vigorous pace.
  • Keep moving while you watch TV. Lift hand weights, do some gentle yoga stretches, or pedal an exercise bike. Instead of using the TV remote, get up and change the channels yourself.
  • Work out at home with a workout video (on your TV or on the internet)
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood. It can be more fun if you walk your dog, walk your kids to school, or walk with a friend.
  • Stand up when talking on the phone
  • Get some exercise equipment for your home. Treadmills and elliptical trainers are great, but not everyone has the money or space for one. Less expensive equipment such as yoga balls, exercise mats, stretch bands, and hand weights can help you get a workout at home too.
How can I be more active at work?

Most of us sit when we are working, often in front of a computer. In fact, less than 20% of Americans have physically active jobs. It can be challenging to fit physical activity into your busy workday, but here are some tips to help you get moving:

  • Get up from your chair and move around at least once an hour
  • Stand when you are talking on the phone
  • Find out whether your company can get you a stand-up or treadmill desk
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Use your break or part of your lunch hour to walk around the building
  • Stand up and walk to a colleague's office instead of sending an email
  • Have "walking" or standing meetings with co-workers instead of sitting in a conference room

Traveler's Health

Traveling can increase your chances of getting sick. A long flight can increase your risk for deep vein thrombosis. Once you arrive, it takes time to adjust to the water, food, and air in another place. Water in developing countries can contain viruses, bacteria, and parasites that cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Be safe by using only bottled or purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, and brushing your teeth. If you use tap water, boil it or use iodine tablets. Food poisoning can also be a risk. Eat only food that is fully cooked and served hot. Avoid unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables.

If you are traveling out of the country, you might also need vaccinations or medicines to prevent specific illnesses. Which ones you need will depend on what part of the world you're visiting, the time of year, your age, overall health status, and previous vaccinations. See your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before your trip. Most vaccines take time to become effective.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention