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Growing older

Health care for the elderly

Aus unserer Serie »English Lesson«: Growing older is by no means always accompanied by a rigid personality, incapable of change. On the contrary, scientists have dispelled this view, and mental illness is also increasingly becoming the focus of health care for the elderly.
Marta Campbell
10.02.2023  13:00 Uhr
Health care for the elderly

The older a person gets, the greater the likelihood of profound changes, for example through loss or illness or simply a new stage in life. One such change is retirement. Finding new tasks and challenges, structuring the day independently and the loss of professional recognition is experienced as extremely stressful, especially by people who have defined themselves strongly through their work. Health problems become more and more present with advancing age. Periods of illness increase and last longer than in younger years. Several illnesses can occur simultaneously and serious illnesses become more frequent. In old age, physical and mental abilities may decline, leading to limitations in independence and self-determination. Many people now lack plans and goals for the future. They become more aware of the finite nature of life and begin to deal with their own death. At the same time, relationship losses become more frequent because a partner, family member or close friend dies. This is also reflected in the emotional experience of older people. According to a study by the University of Leipzig, older people feel anger, hostility and contempt less often than younger people. Sadness, however, remains the same and tends to increase somewhat in old age.

More burdened

Age is not generally considered a risk factor for mental illness. However, the risk increases with the negative changes it can bring. Each individual change represents a psychological burden that can promote mental illness. As stresses accumulate, especially in old age, this has an impact on mental health. It is estimated that 17 percent of people over 75 are affected by a depressive disorder, and 7 percent suffer from major depression. In nursing homes, the residents’ mental stress is particularly high. Here, the majority of residents have a mental illness.

Often combined

The most common mental illnesses in older people include the so-called "3 Ds" - dementia, depression and delirium - as well as anxiety and addiction disorders. It is typical for mental illnesses in old age that they can occur both individually and in combination. This is particularly often the case with depression and anxiety disorders, in many cases these are also accompanied by pain. Dementia also frequently occurs together with an anxiety disorder. A close interlocking of symptoms is also present in depression and dementia. Many patients become depressed in the early stages of dementia and depressed people can show symptoms of dementia such as concentration and attention problems or orientation difficulties. Only delirium can usually be easily distinguished from the other diseases. Here, cognition and attention suddenly collapse, in contrast to the slow, persistent and progressive development in dementia. In elderly people, delirium often occurs when they are in hospital or in a care facility. It is often the result of multimorbidity and multimedication. There are certain possibilities for prevention. Besides the right medication, a balanced electrolyte and fluid balance, support with hearing and seeing as well as a well-designed environment can prevent delirium.


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