Stat of the day: Mental health in older age

By Angela Matthews

The World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to consider age and disability – particularly mental health in older age.

The WHO gives examples of factors in age that may impact and/or contribute to disability or long-term conditions. These examples include that for those who already have a disability when they reach older age (which, I’m afraid, the WHO considers to be anyone over the age of 60), limited mobility and pain can increase. For others, a number of social factors can feature – grief and bereavement or reduced income due to retirement, for example. The WHO warn that such factors can lead to isolation and loss of independence. What evidence do statistics give for this? (Note: The following represent disability worldwide.)

  • 20 per cent of older people have a mental health or neurological condition – the two most common being depression and dementia. This accounts for almost 7 per cent of older people’s disabilities;
  • Anxiety affects almost 4 per cent of people over 60;
  • Depression affects 7 per cent of people over 60;
  • 25 per cent of all deaths by self-harm are of people over the age of 60.

The WHO also notes that those with heart disease have higher rates of depression. This is an important observation on the relationship between mental and physical health and how, where a mental health condition such as depression goes untreated or is not given the appropriate attention, the positive or ‘successful’ outcome of the physical condition can be limited.

One of the WHO’s recommendations for trying to prevent mental health problems in older age is to encourage “active and healthy ageing” which, they say, should allow for integrated and balanced lifestyles. As there are an increasing number of people in the UK who remain in employment much beyond the age of 60, it is worth employers considering how their own policies and practices may be affected by older workers requesting to work flexibly to help achieve a better work/life balance. From next year, flexible working rights will be extended to allow anyone to make a flexible working request (i.e. not just those with parenting or caring responsibilities). How this will be managed by employers, or if there will be any increase in requests from older workers at all, we are yet to see.

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