Can we help the elderly with their mental health?

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  Posted by: Dental Design      13th March 2022

Mental health issues among middle-aged and the elderly are not uncommon. In fact, according to statistics from Age UK, half of adults aged over 55 have experienced common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.[i]

There are a number of reasons why the upper end of this age group could be experiencing a high prevalence of mental health problems. Ill health, bereavement of friends, lack of mobility, loss of independence – old age comes with many substantial life changes that can wreak havoc on mental health, especially if individuals feel like they aren’t receiving the support they need. Even some milestones we view as positive such as retirement can leave people feeling without a sense of purpose and more prone to developing depression.[ii]

However, one thread that commonly runs through mental health issues among the elderly is loneliness. It’s not uncommon for older individuals to feel isolated, especially as they lose their independence, their social circle shrinks and they may not have the mobility to get out and about like they used to. A famous quote states that “loneliness is the surest sign of an old age” and in many ways this fact is impacting people’s health.

Research has linked loneliness and the mental anguish this causes with a number of significant health conditions, including higher risk of premature death, dementia, depression, suicidal thoughts and heart failure. In some instances, such as in the case of dementia, loneliness is now considered a key factor, as those who feel isolated are 50% more likely to develop this condition.[iii]

But where do dental hygienists and dental therapists come in? New research has revealed that another cause for the high occurrence of mental illness among the older generation could be because a large number of these individuals suffer from oral health conditions.

Researchers found that those with oral health conditions in later life were more likely to develop depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. This could be because these conditions often have a tangible impact on people’s quality of life – when people are already struggling with adjustments to life that old age can bring, living with pain or discomfort caused by oral health on top of this can exacerbate negative feelings.

One thing that we can do as professionals is to try to reach out to as many people within this vulnerable age group as possible. That might involve arranging visits to care homes or organising events with the practice you work in to encourage elderly patients to receive the care they need. This is one group we should really be targeting in order to help relieve any oral health issues and, by proxy, hopefully reduce the prevalence of mental health conditions among this demographic too.

In the end, it’s becoming more and more clear that oral health is incredibly influential on both the systemic and mental health of individuals. By making the time to give attention to the most vulnerable groups in society such as elderly patients, we can make a substantial difference.





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[i] NHS England. Half of Adults Aged 55 And Over Have Experienced Common Mental Health Problems, Say Age UK. Link:,people%20in%20the%20UK%20today. [Last accessed December 21].

[ii] Independent Age. Looking After Your Mental Health. Link: [Last accessed December 21].

[iii] Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. Link:,considered%20to%20be%20socially%20isolated [Last accessed December 21].

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