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Happy senior friends taking a selfie on the street

It’s widely understood that, as people get older, they’re more likely to experience health problems like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer. We’re used to hearing about these things. They’re expected. They’re talked about.

What gets less attention, though, is how common behavioral health issues are among older adults.

Because these issues are directly linked to diminished quality of life and a lower life expectancy, it’s important to talk about them.

Staying healthy with age

Loneliness and isolation are among the biggest factors affecting older people’s mood and cognition. (They’re two different things. Being socially isolated can lead to loneliness, but some people are socially isolated without feeling lonely. And some feel lonely without being socially isolated.)

  • More than 33 percent of adults ages 45 and older feel lonely.
  • Nearly 25 percent are considered socially isolated.

What is causing this loneliness and isolation? Older adults in the U.S. are more likely to:

  • Live alone compared to their counterparts in other countries
  • Have lost family or friends
  • Have one or more chronic illnesses, which in itself can cause social isolation

So, it’s vital to stay in contact with the people you care about and the world around you! You can:

  • Make virtual, coffee, or dinner dates with family and friends.
  • Volunteer for organizations you believe in.
  • Play bingo and/or go bowling.
  • Visit your local farmer’s market.
  • Check out what’s happening at your local adult community center.

Even just hearing someone say your name or make eye contact with you from time to time is tremendously important to your health.

In addition, older adults often experience hearing loss, which can contribute to social isolation, cognitive decline, and anxiety if untreated. So don’t put off getting hearing aids if you need them. They can make a huge difference for your mental health and quality of life.

Even just hearing someone say your name or make eye contact with you from time to time is tremendously important to your health.

Finally, exercise is very beneficial to your mood, cognition, and overall health. Prioritize staying active, especially outdoors (weather and safety permitting).

Addressing emotional and behavioral health issues

It’s great to do whatever we can to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. But we also have to take action if we’re struggling.

In our society, there’s still a strong stigma against mental health conditions. And that stigma is especially widespread among people in their sixties and above, particularly among Black people.

Many individuals in this age group believe there’s something shameful about struggling emotionally, as if it’s a sign of weakness. It’s not. It’s part of being human, and we all struggle sometimes.

If we pretend these problems don’t exist, we can’t do anything about them. If we acknowledge them, there are lots of things we can do to take care of ourselves.

Many individuals in this age group believe there’s something shameful about struggling emotionally, as if it’s a sign of weakness. It’s not. It’s part of being human, and we all struggle sometimes.

It’s okay to not be okay. And if you’re not okay…

  • Admit it to yourself. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Don’t blame yourself. Just acknowledge how you’re feeling.
  • Talk to a trusted friend or relative. Even just having your experiences, thoughts, and feelings heard and validated can be really helpful.
  • Seek help from a professional. Don’t try to get through it alone if you don’t start feeling better, you’re feeling hopeless, or you’re thinking about hurting yourself or others.

There are many effective treatments available for emotional and behavioral health issues. Your primary care doctor is a great place to start. Ask them what kind of specialist would be best for your situation.

If you’re an AmeriHealth plan member, you can also visit our Behavioral Health Resources page for a variety of ways to access care.

If you take just one thing away from reading this article, I hope it’s this: Mental health is health! And you deserve to be as healthy as you can. It’s not only a gift to yourself, but also to the people who care about you.

Donna B. Raziano, MD (MBA, FACP, AGSF)

Dr. Raziano is a clinical care transformation physician; responsible for collaborating with primary care providers, ACOs, and health systems to drive improved performance. Board certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine, and Hospice & Palliative Care, Dr. Raziano has been in population health medical leadership roles since 2005, with a specialty in the LIFE/PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) programs and home health. She is active with the American Geriatrics Society, American College of Physicians, and the National PACE Association. Outside of work, she enjoys reading, golfing, and spending time with her husband and three children.