7 Factors that Can Affect Mental Health in Elders

Posted By: Amanda Beck Clinical Practice,

Geriatric substance abuse and mental health are interconnected challenges that pose significant risks to the well-being of the aging population. Co-occurring disorders combined with societal and physical health conditions may amplify mental health concerns among this population. In fact, here are 7 factors that may affect mental health in elders.

Psychosocial Stressors:

  • Older adults may encounter a myriad of psychosocial stressors, including loss of loved ones, retirement, or chronic health conditions. These stressors can contribute to mental health challenges, making older individuals more susceptible to turning to substances as a coping mechanism.

Chronic Pain and Medication Use:

  • The prevalence of chronic pain in the geriatric population often leads to the prescription of pain medications. The misuse or over-reliance on prescription medications can inadvertently lead to substance abuse, exacerbating mental health concerns. The use of non-prescription substances being used by the elderly to medicate chronic conditions is also on the rise with the legalization of marijuana in many states.

Isolation and Loneliness:

  • Social isolation and loneliness, common in older adults, have a profound impact on mental health. Elderly individuals with physical limitations are especially prone to isolation as restricting movement can lead to a decrease in ability to leave the house. Substance abuse can emerge as a maladaptive coping strategy, offering temporary relief from the emotional distress associated with social isolation.

Multiple Prescription Problems:

  • The phenomenon of older adults being prescribed multiple medications simultaneously, commonly referred to as polypharmacy, increases the risk of drug interactions and adverse effects on mental health. The combined use of substances and prescribed medications can further complicate the mental health landscape.

Cognitive Impairment:

  • The confluence of substance abuse and mental health disorders in older adults may contribute to cognitive impairment and decline. Substance use can exacerbate existing cognitive challenges, leading to more pronounced issues such as dementia.

Increased Vulnerability:

  • Older individuals with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues are at an increased risk of physical health decline, falls, and a compromised immune system. The interconnected nature of these challenges demands a holistic approach to address both mental and physical well-being.

Treatment Resistance:

  • The presence of substance abuse can complicate the treatment of mental health disorders, leading to treatment resistance. Integrated care models that address both issues simultaneously are crucial for achieving positive outcomes.

Psychotherapeutic Interventions, medication management, and integrated care models can be helpful in treating mental health and substance abuse disorders among geriatric populations. To learn more, watch the on-demand webinar, "On the Rise: Substance Use Disorders Among the Elderly" or attend the live workshop, "Gerontology & Mental Health-An Overview of Behavioral Health, Pharmacology, and Support Services."


Click here to suggest a correction. 

The Oklahoma Counseling Institute provides training, articles, consultation groups, and more for clinicians in Oklahoma, Texas, New York, and beyond!