What is the connection between chronic health conditions and mental health in older adults?
There is a connection between chronic health conditions and mental health, especially with older adults. Eleven percent of people with Alzheimer's, 17% with cardiovascular diseases, 27% with diabetes, 42% with cancer, and 51% with Parkinson's also have major depressive disorder, which is signficant. It is important to keep this in mind as you work with clients who are older adults or who are being cared for by older adults. Additionally, arthritis and depression are leading causes of disability. However, depression can be prevented, and there are certainly ways that we can intervene before somebody gets to the point where they are disabled because of it.
Seven out of 10 primary care physician (PCP) office visits are over concerns with chronic diseases. Think about how big of an issue that is and the amount of money, resources, and time spent managing chronic health conditions. Many of the contributing factors to chronic health issues are preventative as well.
The association between depression and chronic disease is easily seen. If a person is depressed and then is diagnosed with a chronic health issue, that chronic health issue will probably get worse because they're having depressive symptoms and they're not able to take care of themselves. Then the disease gets worse and progresses more quickly, and they get depressed because of that. It just cycles on and on.
It's also important to note that clients who have depressive symptoms are also twice as likely to have a stroke and four times as likely to have a heart attack. Again, this is an area where we can make a significant difference in preventing some things from happening that make our clients sick.
Having a mental health disorder like depression or anxiety is going to affect a person's ability to undertake some of those health-promoting behaviors. For example, if somebody is depressed, it will be a lot harder for them to take their medication every day, exercise every day, make sure that they're eating healthy every day, or work on their treatment plan with their SLP every day.
A mental health disorder also impacts caregiving in both directions. A caregiver will probably burn out sooner if they are trying to care for somebody who has a chronic health issue and is depressed at the same time. In that situation, the caregiver takes on even more caregiving responsibilities, and they get burned out. That can also lead to their own depression or anxiety. Burnout and depression are very similar and go hand-in-hand quite often. And, as you probably know, caregiving can be very taxing on a person.
This ATE is an excerpt from the course, Understanding Mental Health in Older Adults, presented by Gabrielle Juliano-Villani, LCSW.