Mental Health and Illness in Late Adulthood

i Apr 1st No Comments by

Submitted By: Wendy Haus Hanevold Ph.D.

Wendy Haus Hanevold is a licensed clinical psychologist who focuses on working adults and families who have experienced complex developmental trauma. She specializes in working adults (50 Plus) who need to get back on track when life knocks them off balance. Her interests revolve around building positive and healthy attachments, acceptance of grief and loss, and helping people and families bloom where they are planted. (Her Website is

This column/blog is designed to explore how Mental Health and Illness manifests during late adulthood . It is created to provide practical information to professionals, volunteers and family members who are not mental health professionals but who are working and living with older adults.

Providers and Caregivers need information and tools to screen for problems and challenges that are common to all ages as well as emerging issues that are more prevalent among older adults. They need to know what questions to ask and what to observe on both the non-verbal and verbal levels. Examples of questions include: Can the person I am working with hear? Can they see? Did I remember to ask about substance use and sexual behaviors? ( Or did I assume they are too old for that kind of stuff). And of course, the specter of cognitive impairment raises its scary head. The bugaboo of medical problems complicates the appearance of mental health challenges. The impact of medication(s) further complicates the story. This is in addition to loss, transitions and change.

Grief, for example, is a common challenge caregivers encounter in older adults. Grief is not depression. Yet an individual may have a long history of recurring or ongoing depression complicated by grief. Grief may set off old trauma symptoms that had been held in abeyance through a secure connection to a loved one who is now lost. Grief may result in a return to old addictions—like alcohol or food. Grief may be a transition time that needs to be navigated with wisdom, support and companionship but does not need “treatment.”

Over the next several months, we will explore the major categories of Mental Health Diagnoses and how they manifest in the general adult population and in older adults. Major Mental Disorder categories include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, mood disorders, and eating disorders. Lifelong challenges revolving around social communication, attention, and learning issues do not disappear just because someone is older. Personality disorders can muddy multiple levels of interactions. Early development trauma, acute stress and chronic stress further complicate the presentation of problems. These challenges need to be balanced with explorations of resilience, earned wisdom, ability to be present in the here and now, family, community, and skills in navigating life’s trials and tests.

Resources will be shared for providers and family members. Tips for managing challenging behavior will be provided. Landmines to avoid will be identified. Guidelines for consultation with family members will be given. Web and print resources will be shared. The goal of this blog is to become an ongoing resource for providers and family members on Mental Health and Illness. It will not explore issues connected with Alzheimer’s or dementia beyond the screening level. Information will be shared. Answers will be gathered. Experts will be consulted. Please join us on this journey of healing and support. Please send suggestions for topics and questions you would like to be addressed to Together we can become sources of knowledge, compassion and healing for the adults in later life and families with whom we work and live.


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