Many emotional challenges certainly aren’t age specific. We can experience mental health issues and emotional challenges regardless of age. But are there specific risks or challenges that older adults face that are seen less in a younger population? And what are some of the areas where an older adult might experience challenges emotionally?
Emotional challenges or mental health?
In discussing emotional challenges, it’s generally included in the all encompassing “mental health” category. But there is a difference between emotional health and mental health. The Red Oak Recovery website describes the difference as,
- “Emotional health is the ability to cope with and manage emotions. It’s also the ability to have positive relationships.
- Mental health is the ability to think clearly and make good decisions. It’s also the ability to cope with stress and manage emotions.”
Yes, the two are connected, intertwined and sometimes overlapping, but serve different purposes. Emotional health treatments and supports may not be the same as treatments and supports that are used for mental health issues.
With some symptoms and behaviors, there is often overlap. But there will usually be one health issue that is predominant, whether it be mental health or emotional health. For the purposes of this article, we’ll talk about challenges that are classified as emotional health challenges.
5 Common emotional challenges for older adults
Insomnia and sleep pattern issues
A number of physiological issues occur as we age and this can impact our sleep patterns. For more information on the details, click here to read our article 3 Sleep Challenges in Older Adults. Medications, our sleep patterns being thrown off (such as slowly growing accustomed to staying up very late at night) and other factors can affect how much sleep we get.
Since sleep is critical not only to our physical health, but our emotional and mental health as well, figuring out the cause is important. If you feel that you aren’t sleeping well on a regular basis or if you have any questions or concerns with your rest habits, please speak first with your doctor.
Fear of the future
As we age, we can feel there is more “time” behind us than there is in front of us. While none of us knows the future, it’s logical to understand that we may be coming to the last stage of our lives. Fear of the future can encompass many worries, such as:
- fear of impending illness
- fear of loss of cognitive ability
- fear of loss of physical ability
- financial worries
- fear of the loss of partner or friends
- fear of loss of independence
It’s best to manage these kinds of fears soon as they are recognized, before they grow. Speaking with a therapist or counselor can be very helpful
Eating for reason other than to provide nutrition to the body can happen to people of every age. But it can be seen more often in the elderly as free time has increased and outside hobbies and physical activities has generally decreased.
Concerns around food, eating habits and emotional eating should be watched and addressed as eating disorders can be developed at any age. In fact, new research shows that females over the age of 50 are part of a new, emerging trend under the category of eating disorders.
While emotional eating itself isn’t disordered behavior, it’s unhealthy emotionally and physically and can be an early warning sign. Speak with a physician if you or someone you love is showing signs of an eating disorder.
Loss and Grief
Another challenge that can happen more often as we age, is the loss of people who we love from our lives. Loss surely isn’t limited to age, but as we grow older, the risk of loss increases. From older people who we’ve admired, our parents and other family members, friends and our partners, we begin to experience loss and grief on a more frequent basis.
Grief counsellors, clergy and therapists can be incredibly helpful and can provide tools and skills to manage grief.
Anger Issues or outbursts
Experiencing anger issues itself isn’t unique to growing older, but there are factors about aging that can exacerbate anger issues and also hinder the ability to regulate emotional responses. Physical pain and discomfort can make anger boil over, as can fear, worry and stress.
Not only anger, but general emotion regulation can become challenging as we age, for some more than others. There seem to be two distinct groups of mentally ‘healthy’ elderly people; one group who seem to become more stoic and can control their feelings well.
The other group falls into that segment of folks, who are going “to tell it like it is” and have their emotional reactions visibly regardless of who is present or where they are.
If you feel your anger or the anger of a loved one is becoming a problem or causing dangerous situations, speak with a healthcare professional.
If you or someone you love is facing an ongoing challenging or difficult time, speak with the family doctor, a counselor, therapist or other trusted healthcare provided. Getting treatment can make an enormous difference and improve overall quality of life.
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Do you have questions about how you can better support your loved one while they age in place in South Florida or regarding homecare in general? Please contact CareGivers of America here: Contact us or call us toll free: 800-342-4197
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