Older people


Getting older and retirement both involve a change in lifestyle for most people and it is important to take care of yourself mentally as well as physically. The process of retirement and getting old is one of many life transitions people go through in the life cycle.
There is an assumption that mental health problems are a ‘normal’ aspect of ageing but most older people do not develop mental health problems, and they can be helped if they do. While a significant number of people do develop dementia or depression in old age, they are not an inevitable part of getting older.


Not everyone feels ready to retire at the same time, if work or career is a major part of your life it can affect:
  • the social aspect of your life if your job also provided friendships
  • your sense of self worth and self esteem if you felt valued at work
  • your financial security

However being retired (or semi-retired) can also be a busy phase of life. It can be a chance to try a new activity or learn new skills and do the things that you have always wanted to do but never had the time.


Depression describes a range of moods, from low mood to feeling unable to cope with everyday life. It can affect anyone, of any culture, age or background  This is because older people are much more vulnerable to factors that lead to depression, such as:

  • being widowed or divorced
  • being retired or unemployed
  • physical disability or illness
  • loneliness and isolation

The neurobiological changes associated with getting older, prescribed medication for other conditions and genetic susceptibility (which increases with age) are also factors.  There are a number of rarer mental health problems that affect older people too, including delirium, anxiety and late-onset schizophrenia.


Dementia is a decline in mental ability which affects memory, thinking, problem-solving, concentration and perception. It occurs as a result of the death of brain cells or damage in parts of the brain that deal with our thought processes.
People with dementia can become confused and some also become restless or display repetitive behaviour. They may also seem irritable, tearful or agitated which can be very distressing for both the person with dementia and their family and friends.

Alcohol abuse

Although alcohol abuse is a problem for people of all ages, it is more likely to go unrecognised among older people. Reasons for alcohol abuse in older age include bereavement and other losses, loneliness, physical ill health, disability and pain, loss of independence, boredom and depression. Retirement may also provide more opportunities for drinking too much.


Prescribed medications can cause symptoms associated with mental illness in older people. Most older people are taking some kind of medication, and many are taking several at the same time. There are risks associated with taking multiple medications, including confusion.

Mental capacity and caring for others

People with dementia or severe mental illness may be unable to make and communicate decisions. Very few people are completely incapable of making any choices or decisions, but some older people may have partial or fluctuating mental capacity and may need help.
People with dementia often need special support – they may take longer to make decisions, may need an advocate to speak on their behalf and their mental functioning may also vary by day, and time of day. Family members or carers are often useful sources of information but it is important to take account of the views of the person with dementia alongside those of their carer. Being a carer is not always easy. Many find it demanding both physically and emotionally.