PODCAST: Older adults report troubling struggles with mental health

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

Ohio News Connection

Among the needs highlighted during Mental Health Awareness Month are those for older adults. It’s become a serious challenge, says a new America’s Health Rankings 2022 Senior Report.

For people age 65-plus, the report ranks Ohio 37th among states for the risk of social isolation and 38th for reports of frequent mental distress.

Ken Wilson, vice president of program operations with the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, explained these issues were exacerbated in the pandemic. He encouraged anyone concerned about behavioral changes in a loved one to reach out – and be careful not to use labels.

“If you say, ‘Hey, Dad, you’re depressed.’ that’s not going to go over well with a lot of people,” said Wilson. “So, it’s more important to approaching individuals by suggesting doing something fun – like, ‘Hey, there’s this really good group that plays cards every Friday. Can I take you there?'”

Even more troubling, the report found a 157% increase in drug-related deaths among older Ohioans.

Seniors are more likely to be taking prescription medications, which they may unintentionally misuse. And they face a reduced ability to metabolize medications due to age-related changes in the liver.

The report is from UnitedHealthcare, where Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rhonda Randall said there’s an intriguing juxtaposition between physical and mental health status.

“Seniors are rating their overall health,” said Randall, “not just behavioral health, but health in general – as ‘very good’ or ‘high.’ So, it’s interesting to see simultaneously, they’re saying, ‘My overall health is good, but my mental health is poor.”

Wilson said he believes the community needs to provide more resources to address mental health and social isolation for older adults.

“As a society, we’re really good at providing for physical needs,” said Wilson, “for example, transportation, food, cleaning and things like that. And oftentimes, we overlook the impact that social isolation has on individuals’ quality of life and their physical health, as well.”

He noted that Area Agencies on Aging are good sources for locating local programs to connect seniors to mental health services and social activities, as well as libraries and community centers.

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