Epidemiological studies have found that mental health problems such as depression are not a natural consequence of growing older. However, there are a number of challenges that occur primarily in later life and that may increase the disability and burden of mental health problems among the elderly. For example, serious medical illnesses and related functional decline are much more common in later life. Bereavement related to the loss of a spouse, although not uncommon among younger adults, is very common among married or partnered older cohorts. Likewise, the functional and emotional challenges to individuals and family members posed by dementing illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease largely occur during later life.
Stressful life events and hassles, medical illness, physical and functional decline, and decreasing social activity are all associated with causing or worsening a wide variety of mental disorders among older adults. When mental disorders, medical illness, and functional decline co-occur, older adults face a greatly increased risk of hospitalization and placement in long-term care facilities. It is important to note, however, that older adults vary substantially in terms of their mental and physical health, physical abilities, level of cognition (e.g., memory skills), independent living skills, community functioning, family and social relationships, and overall well-being. some older adults are relatively healthy and active well into their 80s and 90s.
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