Numerous psychological factors affect mental health in older adults. The topic of the current discussion covers these factors and their implications for mental health in elderly populations. More precisely, the issue to be considered is how stress changes the patterns of coping and mental health in older adults.
Stress is a common occurrence in all population groups. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is an indispensable ingredient of aging. The effects of stress on mental health in older adults are numerous and diverse. On the one hand, it adversely influences adults’ cognitive, emotional, and mental wellbeing. On the other hand, it often triggers the development of better resilience and stronger social support networks. In other words, the exact ways in which stress affects mental health in older adults vary considerably and depend on many individual and social factors. One thing is important: stress involves all systems of the human organism, leading to the development of numerous acute and chronic health conditions. Consequently, professionals in gerontology and geropsychology should consider the role of stress in the physiological and psychological health of elderly patients.
It should be noted that the relationship between psychological factors and mental health in older adults is rather complex. First, stress necessarily induces an immediate physiological response in elderly patients. However, the nature of tasks that lead to stress and cause such responses would differ from the tasks that result in stress in younger adults. For instance, older adults will experience serious emotional tension, if they need to undergo a cognitive test. The levels of cortisol in their blood will increase, making older adults more vulnerable to heart attacks and related cardiovascular complications. When it comes to mental health, the type of stressor and the age of the patient should serve as guidance in developing the most suitable intervention.
Second, the nature of stress in older adults and, therefore, its impacts on their mental health, depends on the nature and complexity of the social roles they are bound to play. Contrary to popular beliefs about late adulthood, elderly people assume multiple roles even at the later stages of their lifespan. For example, they are responsible for growing up their grandchildren. They may also participate in workforce or community activities. However, unlike their younger counterparts, elderly people are more vulnerable to physical and physiological disturbances, which disrupt daily routines and prevent them from accomplishing their obligations. These changes in physiological and psychological wellbeing can result in role strain and stresses that inevitably change people’s mental and emotional health. Simultaneously, due to richer life experiences, older adults may appear to be more resilient to daily stresses, compared with their younger relatives and family members. This aspect of mental health in older adults also should not be ignored.
Third, adults’ mental health capacity changes with age. Such changes always accompany older adults. Elderly people may not be able to solve their emotional problems, simply because their cognition and intelligence suffer as a result of the physiological changes that are characteristic of aging. For example, an old woman may experience high levels of stress, when she learns that she has Alzheimer’s. Simultaneously, she may find it particularly difficult to reduce the pressure of daily stressors, since Alzheimer’s reduces her information processing and thinking capacity.
To conclude, the links among various psychological factors and their effects on mental health in older adults are extremely complex. Numerous physiological, psychological, and environmental criteria need to be analyzed, in order to provide high-quality support to elderly patients. At times, friendship, continuous social support, and availability of comprehensive community resources may be enough to maintain high levels of mental health and emotional wellbeing in the later stages of life.