Loneliness is one of the most painful aspects of dementia and can make caring for a loved one in their final years a challenging experience.
The most common mental health problems in older people are depression and dementia. There is a widespread belief that these conditions are a natural part of the ageing process.
This is, however, not the case. Only 20 per cent of people over 85, and five per cent over 65, have dementia; between10-15 per cent of people over 65 have depression, though this figure is growing.
So, while ageing and mental health problems are getting more media coverage, it’s worth bearing in mind that the majority of older people have good mental health and should be treated as such. Nothing is more annoying to fit and capable old people as being patronised because of their age.
There are simple things you can do to maintain mental good health well as you get older.
It has been proven that exercise, even if it's just going for a gentle stroll, helps to boost mental health. Other suitable and beneficial exercise includes gardening, swimming and playing bowls.
Many gyms now have programmes and classes for older people, and as well as the fitness benefits, taking part in these will keep your brain busy and is an opportunity to meet new people.
Diet and nutrition
There's a clear connection between food and mood. Missing meals or eating unhealthily can result in tiredness, depression, increased vulnerability to illness and greater sensitivity to the cold.
Maintaining a good diet is crucial for remaining active as well as reducing the risk of many illnesses and also osteoporosis.
Problems concerning sleeping are common among older people and these difficulties can get worse with age.
You need less sleep as you get past 50 and the average length of sleep each night may fall to six hours or fewer. However, while the occasional night without much sleep is not a problem, ongoing insomnia and sleep disturbance can have negative side effects and could be a cause or symptom of mental health problems such as depression.
Your GP can identify the problem and possible solutions, or refer you for further assessment if necessary.
Social and family life
Keeping in touch with relatives and friends from different age groups is particularly beneficial as you grow older.
Popping round for a cup of tea, or telephone, text or email contact with family and friends counteracts the isolation that many older people experience, especially those who live alone.
Practical difficulties that can cause mental distress, for example poverty and mobility problems, can be alleviated by the assistance of friends and relatives. Don’t be afraid to ask. Friends, family and neighbours can help older people feel less isolated and increase their sense of wellbeing just by being a friendly face and lending a sympathetic ear.
Bear this in mind if you’re facing loneliness, or if your older neighbours and family members are living alone.