CHEEKTOWAGA, NY (WKBW) — Our mental health plays a vital role in our overall health and for older adults it's important to recognize mental illness with aging.
The World Health Organization says approximately 15-percent of adults 60-years and older suffer from a mental disorder.
As part of our Buffalo Strong: Health and Wellness Series, we find out how some seniors are keeping their mental health in check.
“You guys got tickets?” Christine Kasprzak shouts out.
Each afternoon at the Cheektowaga Senior Citizen Center you will find Kasprzak in the kitchen, helping prepare lunch.
She says as an older adult working keeps her mental health in check.
“Actually working — working with the seniors here — it really is enjoyable and it keeps my mind wandering and going all the time,” Kasprzak said.
Kasprzak showed off Caesar salads she helped prepared for lunch. She says she enjoys serving and interacting with the other seniors.
Experts say there are four areas where older adults can be effected by when it comes to their mental health:
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
That is why the senior center provides important socializing for older adults.
“Society generally expects depression in older age, so we see a lot of depression and anxiety— in the aging population,” explained Jaymee Caplan, staff development clinical trainer, Spectrum Health & Human Services.
“What happens with that mental illness when they age?” Buckley asked.
“If your mental health was not well maintained when you were younger and it wasn't — maybe counseling — medications weren't an option for you that's likely going to be what happens when you get older — it's likely to get worse, but then there's this really unique thing that happens that some medications aren't as well tolerated when you get older,” Caplan responded.
Caplan says it can be tough distinguishing between dementia and mental illness.
“For example — forget-fullness — chronic forgetfulness is actually a symptom of anxiety as well as the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s of dementia of some kind,” Caplan explained.
Caplan says older adults suffer more anxiety and depression because of unresolved traumas in their lives or grieving someone's death like a close friend or spouse.
The pandemic has created harsh isolation for older adults dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“Hardest part was when he did pass away,” remarked Mary Sikorski, 90, Cheektowaga resident.
Sikorski lost her 91-year-old husband Joseph while he was in a nursing home.
The pandemic limited her final moments with the man she was married to for 66-years.
“I was only allowed half an hour and with all the protection that I had the mask and everything — couldn't kiss him, rubber gloves and I don't know — we went home and two hours later he was gone,” Sikorski.
Sikorski calls the senior center a “God send”, but also admits, the grieving process is “slow”.
“The best part is my husband is still on my answering machine, so I hear him everyday because I keep getting calls and I don't answer the phone unless I recognize and I hear him — so I keep saying ‘hi, Joe’ — ‘how are you today?’ — and it works,” reflected Sikorski.
Sikorski says she's fortunate because she still drives, socializes with her neighbors and has Facetime conversations with out-of-town family.
Experts say for older adults who are isolated, they should try counseling.
Caplan says spectrum health accepts all insurances and Medicare.
“Which is huge for the aging population. If you're an independent license mental health counselor and you are working in private practice — you can not accept Medicare — it's written in the law that way,” Caplan said.
For Sikorski, when she can't get out to socialize, she stays at home working on a one-thousand piece jigsaw puzzles.
“And then I say every piece you put in, you take a sip of wine — that's a reward — so you work a lot faster just to be able to finish it,” Sikorski explained.
“That's a lot of wine if it's a big jigsaw puzzle?” Buckley remarked.
“Well you sort of space yourself as much as you can,” laughter Sikorski.