Coming Soon: World Mental Health Day 2013—Mental health and older people

Did you know there is a World Mental Health Day? You didn't? It's every year, on October 10. That's in two days' time, on Thursday.

And the theme this year? MENTAL HEALTH AND OLDER PEOPLE.

So, to commemorate that, I'll be blogging this month on just that subject: how mental illness affects the elderly (that's people aged 60 and above—it's considered from 65 up in developed countries, but in developing countries like Nigeria, where life expectancy isn't so great, 60 is acceptable).

When we think of mental disorders, not many of us think of the elderly, right? Just like we hardly think of children too. But mental and behavioural disorders no dey look age o. They can affect kids from as early as less than a year to adults as old as 90 and up. (I'm sure you're really curious about the kids part—relax, I promise I'll talk about that in a future series. But right now, it's the turn of the elders.)

This is a pretty important topic, if not for you specifically, for your older loved ones: parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, and senior friends. One of the most important mental disorders in the elderly, which I will be telling you about in my next post, is something called dementia. Ever heard of it? Its most obvious sign is memory loss, which can sometimes be so severe that the affected person forgets even the names of their spouse and children and other close family. It's more common than you probably think, but most people mistake it for a normal sign of old age. I'll say more in my next post, but for now, know this: forgetfulness is NOT a normal sign of old age. (Tweet that!) If you know anyone experiencing that, you'd best see a doctor. There may be more to it than you're thinking.

For now, lemme give you a few facts on mental health in older people…

800 million. The number of elderly people (60 years and up) worldwide. That's more than 5 times Nigeria's present estimated population. (By 2050, it's expected to reach 2 billion. That's almost a third of the current global population.) What this means, by the way, is that no generation of humans have ever had as many parents in their middle age as ours. And there have never been so many children who actually knew their grandparents.

1 in every 5 older people. The approximate proportion who have mental disorders. Be honest—you didn't think it would be anything near that many, did you?

Low and middle income countries. Where the fastest growth in numbers of older people are occurring. It's not just in the developed world, as we used to think. In fact, it is in the poorer countries that the number of older people are increasing fastest.

Noncommunicable diseases. The biggest killers (heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease) and causes of disability (problems with vision, dementia, hearing loss and bone arthritis). In other words, it's not infections that are taking the elderly away the most, as much as the bodies failing. Which is good news in a way: it means we can all help our older people by being more aware of, and more alert to, the earliest signs of this failure. It also means you and I can start preparing for our own old age right now.

Next post, I'll be talking about dementia. Keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, I'd like to know: have you had any experience with mental disorder in an elderly person? Please share in the comments!

To ageing well! :-)

Source of facts: WHO (