Home Health & Wellness The Weighty Task of Mental Health Professionals Understanding Elderly Experiences

The Weighty Task of Mental Health Professionals Understanding Elderly Experiences

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While the physical ailments elderly people struggle with are visible and “easy” (from a relative perspective) for carers to understand, the mental and emotional aspects of their conditions can be harder to grasp. 

Most elderly people have spent the last six decades living completely independently, only to come to the end of their lives and find that they can no longer adequately care for themselves. While this is the ultimate fate of everyone lucky enough to reach an advanced age, it’s also something that can be difficult to fully wrap one’s head around. 

Mental health professionals and other people catering to the care requirements of an aged population need to understand not just their patients’ physical needs, but their emotional ones as well. 

In this article, we take a sweeping look at why understanding an elderly patient’s frame of mind is important, and how mental and physical health professionals can do a better job of it. 

Family NP vs adult-gerontology acute care NP

Family Nurse Practitioners and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners are distinct specialties within nursing. FNPs generally receive a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practices degree. They are trained specifically in family care and can perform many of the same professional functions you might expect to find at a general practitioner’s office. 

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioners pursue a similar educational path, often obtaining an MSN or DNP with a focus on acute care for adults and the elderly. AGACNPs specialise in managing complex, acute, and chronic health conditions in adult and geriatric populations, often in hospital or critical care settings. The responsibilities of FNPs encompass preventive care, health promotion, and managing chronic illnesses within the family context, while AGACNPs are trained to handle acute medical situations, including critical care interventions, for adult and older adult patients.

When considering care options for an elderly family member, you will generally opt for the services of an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP as they are trained more specifically to cater to the unique needs of geriatric patients.

What are common mental health complaints among ageing populations?

What weighs heavily on the minds of geriatric patients? While the ultimate answer to that question will depend heavily on the individual, a loss of independence tends to be a common thread of concern. Only about half of all eighty-year-olds are still driving (the number tends to be slightly higher for men than for women). 

The more independence elderly people lose, the more likely it is that they will suffer from feelings of depression. Aging populations benefit significantly from access to rewarding opportunities that keep them occupied. Below, we look at ways mental health professionals and other geriatric caregivers can help their patients live fulfilling lives. 

Navigating the intersection of mental health and elderly experiences

There are several reasons why healthcare providers sometimes struggle to connect with their elderly patients. The generation gap is certainly one problem. People communicate differently based on when and where they were raised. If you need a reminder that, try having a prolonged conversation with a college student.

While it’s certainly possible to develop mutual understanding, you will undoubtedly find that your point of reference and general perceptions are a little different. 

It’s also just difficult for young, healthy caregivers to fully comprehend the circumstances that elderly people find themselves in. 

This isn’t to say that empathy is unattainable – healthcare providers are quite literally professionals at empathy. It does, however, mean that mental and physical health professionals must take deliberate steps toward empathising with and generally understanding their elderly patients. 

Not only can understanding smooth over some of the challenges in administering high-quality care but it can also improve the patient’s overall experiences. Seniors experience better health outcomes when they are active and social. Regular conversations can improve their memory and mental acuity while physical activity can reduce their risk of heart disease. 

The impact of free college courses for seniors on active aging

Across the country, dozens of colleges offer free or reduced-price college classes to people of a certain age. For some schools, that age is relatively young. Many universities extend discounted rates to people aged 55 or older.

While most senior citizens do not enroll in college courses for career preparation, they may find it deeply rewarding to learn more about something they are passionate about. From art and music to literature and philosophy, there are loads of interesting classes available to enrich the lives of senior citizens. 

The importance of socialisation

Social isolation is a common complaint among senior citizens. People of a certain age may find that their former social circle has largely eroded. People pass on. Relatives get older and become busy with the responsibilities of their own families. 

For seniors who lack the means to pursue social opportunities on their own, it is imperative for caregivers to arrange social encounters. 

Many community centers, churches, nursing homes, libraries, and other communal gathering spaces will make a point of hosting social events specifically aimed toward senior citizens.

These opportunities can serve as a great way for senior citizens to enjoy one another’s company and develop meaningful relationships. 

It’s also worth pointing out that as more and more elderly people become digitally fluent, it is easier for friends and family to stay in touch with their older loved ones, regardless of where they live. Digital communication technologies are making slow but meaningful progress toward reducing social isolation in seniors. 


While providing care to the elderly comes with unique challenges it is also full of satisfying rewards. Despite the way time ravages the human body, most elderly people are neither weak nor feeble. They are very ready to take advantage of opportunities to be active, social, and mentally stimulated.
Caregivers are uniquely positioned to help them improve the quality of their lives. 

It does take work, but by striving for empathy and mutual understanding, mental health professionals, as well as other elderly caregivers can have an enormous impact on their patients’ lives.

Samantha Green, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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