How nurses combat mental health issues in the elderly community

The mental health status of America’s aging population is an increasingly pertinent topic, especially given the growing number of older adults. Several mental health disorders are more prevalent in older adults. 

By 2050, it is estimated that 2.1 billion people worldwide will be over the age of 60. With this demographic shift, mental health issues will undoubtedly rise in the population, making it imperative for healthcare professionals to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to address these concerns.

The American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry estimates that 20% of people over 55 experience a mental health disorder. The National Institute on Aging has identified depression and Alzheimer’s as among the most common. Although the rate of severe cognitive impairment increases with age, it’s important to note that mental decline is not an inevitable part of aging. Other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and dementia often take a toll on the overall wellbeing of the elderly too. 

Nurses, as frontline healthcare professionals, play a critical role in addressing these concerns, ensuring that older adults receive the care and support they need. This article explores the challenges faced by the elderly dealing with mental health concerns and how nurses help elevate them. 

Challenges faced by the elderly 

The challenges faced by the elderly include stigma, lack of access to care, and interplaying physical health conditions.


Often, the older generation is less willing to discuss their feelings or mental health issues due to cultural and generational stigmas. Society often labels the elderly as forgetful, frail, or out of touch. Any deviation from ‘normal’ cognitive functioning is quickly attributed to age rather than a possible mental health disorder. Many elderly individuals grew up in a time when mental health was poorly understood. They might internalize negative beliefs about mental illness, seeing it as a sign of personal weakness or a character flaw. This can lead to a decline in overall health, social isolation, and even a higher risk of suicide. 

Access to care

Many older adults don’t have easy access to mental health services. Surviving on fixed incomes, mental healthcare, especially specialized geriatric care, can be expensive. While some insurance plans may cover portions of the treatment, out-of-pocket costs can be prohibitive. There might also be a shortage of geriatric mental health professionals or other financial barriers.

Physical health interplay

Chronic health conditions, like heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, can increase the risk for mental health issues. Often, medications used for these conditions can have side effects that impact mental health.

Key strategies employed by nurses

Mental health nursing is a specialized field that focuses on the care of patients with mental illnesses, disorders, or substance abuse problems. Mental health nurses are responsible for assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning, therapeutic relationships, medication management, crisis intervention, and promoting mental health. The versatility of the profession means that practitioners can work in various settings, such as hospitals, home care, and community mental health centers. 

Mental health nurses continue to serve as the bridge, being well-equipped to offer the best care possible. As society continues to age, the role of the nurse in championing the mental health of the elderly will only become more vital. Here are some ways they help combat poor mental health.

Continuing education

As research in the field of geriatric mental health evolves, nurses need to remain updated. With advanced training, nurses can learn the latest diagnostics, treatment modalities, and preventive measures pertinent to mental health in older adults. Nurses are encouraged to pursue advanced education such as an online DNP to stay updated on the latest techniques, medications, and therapies available for treating mental health issues in the elderly. 

Institutions like Baylor University have Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) programs courses that equip nurses to be at the forefront of mental healthcare. In addition, modern nursing education promotes a holistic approach to patient care. This involves looking beyond evident physical symptoms and understanding the broader psychological, social, and environmental factors affecting a patient’s health. By understanding the multifaceted nature of mental health in the elderly, nurses can provide comprehensive care that addresses both immediate and underlying issues.

Early detection

Nurses are trained to observe and detect early signs of mental health problems. This includes recognizing changes in mood, behavior, or cognitive function. Early detection is crucial for timely intervention and can lead to better outcomes. Nurses, equipped with the knowledge of an existing or emerging mental health issue, can formulate a care plan tailored to the individual’s specific needs. These plans can encompass medical treatments, therapeutic interventions, lifestyle adjustments, and community resources, for a comprehensive approach.

Educating families

Nurses provide invaluable guidance to family members, helping them understand the nature of mental health issues and teaching them to provide support. Family members are often the primary caregivers, and their involvement can make a significant difference in the patient’s wellbeing. Mental health nurses also play a great role in advocating for mental health patients and ending stigma around mental health. 

Therapeutic communication

Effective communication is crucial. Nurses employ therapeutic communication techniques to encourage elderly patients to express their feelings, concerns, and experiences, thereby establishing trust and understanding. Nurses can connect with patients empathetically and effectively. As a result, there is accurate symptom assessment, timely intervention, and improved patient and family trust.

Interdisciplinary approach

Mental healthcare in the elderly is multifaceted. Nurses collaborate with other healthcare professionals like doctors, therapists, and social workers to ensure comprehensive care is provided. Each professional brings a unique perspective and expertise to the table. For nurses, this provides a more comprehensive understanding of a patient’s needs, both medical and psychosocial. 

Involving multiple professionals ensures that decision-making is a collaborative process too. Nurses benefit from this by having access to diverse insights when determining the best care plan. This shared decision-making process minimizes biases and ensures that all facets of an elderly patient’s mental health are considered.

Engaging in activities

Engaging elderly patients in therapeutic activities can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Activities such as art therapy, music therapy, and guided exercises may have positive effects on mental health.

In conclusion, nurses are at the heart of the healthcare system’s efforts to address mental health issues in the elderly community. With their extensive training, hands-on experience, and unique position as frontline caregivers, nurses are often the first to identify, assess, and address mental health concerns in older adults.

Author Profile

The Editorial Team at Lake Oconee Health is made up of skilled health and wellness writers and experts, led by Daniel Casciato who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We aim to provide our readers with valuable insights and guidance to help them lead healthier and happier lives.