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Dr. Valerie Lipetz on 'Staying Mentally Healthy as You Age'

  • Category: Mental Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Boulder Community Health

Staying mentally healthy is important, no matter how old you are. But it’s especially true throughout your later years because of special challenges you may face. Painful events or changes in your situation can make you more vulnerable to low mood or depression.

“Even though 3 in 4 older adults remain mentally healthy, research suggests that those in later life are more at risk of experiencing the effects of poor mental health,” said board-certified internist Valerie Lipetz, MD, with Internal Medicine Associates of Boulder during a free online health lecture on how to look after your mental well-being later in life.

“You may not be able to totally protect yourself from a mental health concern, but we can change how we’re better able to cope with life’s ups and downs. There are some things you can do to feel emotionally better,” she said.


VIDEO: Watch Dr. Lipetz’s online lecture on "Aging Well: Keys to Staying Mentally Healthy"


Depression in Older Adults

One in four adults 65 and older experience some type of mental health concern. The most common are depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment such as issues with memory, learning, concentrating or decision making.

“Depression is common. The rate in older adults is between 11.5 and 13.5 percent, double that of the general adult population,” said Dr. Lipetz. Statistics indicate the chance of being depressed increases as we lose our independence. She explains, “While one to five percent of people who live independently may experience depression, 29 to 52 percent who live in nursing homes are likely to experience depression.”

Depression is More Likely to Occur If You Are Over 65 and You. . .

  • Are a woman
  • Have a chronic illness or pain
  • Take certain medications (that may change your mood)
  • Are disabled
  • Don’t sleep well
  • Spend a lot of time alone
  • Have a family history of depression
  • Lack a supportive social network
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Are experiencing a stressful life event

There are many warning signs of depression, a partial list includes:

  • Being sad and moody
  • Not eating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
    Click here for a full list of depression symptoms included in Dr. Lipetz’s presentation.

Dr. Lipetz stated, “Less than 30 percent of older adults receive treatment for their depression.” Medications, counseling and therapy are options for treating depression; scheduling activities and socializing can also relieve depression. Boulder Community Health (BCH) offers an integrated behavioral health team to help patients find their best resources.

Ways to Prevent Low Mood or Depression

Most of the things that make you more likely to get depression are things you can’t control, including your genes, chemicals in your brain and your environment. Or, depression can start after a major life change, trauma or health problem such as cancer, diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. You may not be able to totally protect yourself from these things. But we can change how we handle the stress of them, and how we’re better able to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Dr. Lipetz shared things you can do to feel emotionally better:

  1. Talk to someone. Whether it’s a friend, family or counselor, it’s important to talk about what you’re feeling. Stay socially active and try to connect with at least one person each day.
  2. Learn to cope with change. “As we get older one of the harder things we need to learn is how to cope with change,” said Dr. Lipetz. She suggests, addressing life’s challenges daily and looking for the silver lining. “It’s very important to acknowledge your negative feelings, to understand why you are having them, to work to move past them and to accept those things that you can’t change. On the flipside, it’s also important to focus on those things that you are grateful for and that you can change.” She shared the example of people who have been unhappy about having to have to stay in the house during the pandemic, but they feel good that they have learned to knit, read some books, organized their house, been able to have their children temporarily move home, etc.
  3. Stay physically active. Exercise provides purpose and improves sleep and has been shown to be an amazing way to reduce the risk of depression. For almost everybody, walking is a fabulous exercise (during this pandemic it can be done with friends if you maintain a safe distance and wear a mask). Dr. Lipetz emphasized, “You want to find exercises that inspire and motivate you, and you’ll want to build your strength slowly if you’re just starting out with a new workout routine.”
  4. Keep your mind active. Play games, tackle crosswords and puzzles, read, write or experience something new. Dr. Lipetz suggest trying variations on things that you already do or know. Try a new recipe or more challenging puzzles. She also suggested learning something like a new language or an instrument. “Most importantly, work on something new each day.”
  5. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep restores your mind and body, improves our concentration and mood and helps us to build a stronger immune system. If you are getting enough sleep, you should feel good when you awake and be able to get through your day without a nap.

    Dark, cool (60 degrees is optimal), quiet bedrooms are important for a good night’s sleep. Also, before going to bed avoid light from any screen. Like many things, sleep often changes as we age and can be negatively influenced as well by:
  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Pain
  • Medication
  • The need to go to the toilet
  1. Eat and drink sensibly. “Eat five portions of fruits and vegetables each day and be sure to stay hydrated, drinking six or more glasses of fluid each day,” Dr. Lipetz recommended. According to an AARP survey, men and women over 50 who reported eating more nutritiously scored higher on their mental well-being than those who said they rarely ate nutritious meals. The Mediterranean diet provides healthy options and is a good diet to follow to help avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. As far as alcohol is concerned, for both men and women, the rule of thumb is not more than one alcoholic drink per day if you are over age 65.
  2. Have a purpose. Dr. Lipetz said, “According to recent studies, having a sense of purpose or meaning in life can both help with depression and reduce your risk of dementia.” The more you use and sharpen your brain, the more benefits you will experience. Dr. Lipetz emphasized, “While you may still experience dementia, it may come later in life.”

Dr. Valerie Lipetz is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She has been practicing locally since 1991 and is a lifetime Boulder resident. To schedule an appointment, call (303) 415-4250.

Please click here to view/download slides from her lecture on "Aging Well: Keys to Staying Mentally Healthy."

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