New Report Highlights Baby Boomer Needs for Mental Health Care

DepressionA new report indicates that, along with greater risk of physical problems, around one in every five baby boomers may have mental health or substance abuse issues. As the nation adds more seniors, many in need of care may have difficulty finding quality services for common mental health problems, such as depression.

Institute of Medicine Report

The Institute of Medicine reported states the U.S. lacks physicians, nurses and other experienced health workers with training for the special needs of baby boomers. While the nation focuses on addressing the physical health requirements of seniors, a Duke University doctor, chairing the Institute of Medicine investigation panel, states that “the burden of mental illness and substance abuse disorders in older adults in the United States borders on a crisis.”

Further compounding this growing problem, this potential crisis is predominantly hidden from the general public, as well as those charged with developing policies and programs for senior care. Report estimates indicate that between 5.6 million and eight million seniors have either one or more mental health conditions or substance abuse disorders. Researchers believe this is a highly conservative projection as it does not include some disorders.

Senior Population Exploding

With the number of seniors expected to almost double by 2030, unless the mental health community addresses this hidden problem, the nation’s baby boomers may face catastrophe issues.

The growing “silver tsunami” of seniors with mental health issues could prove as dangerous and damaging as the ocean-based ‘harbor wave.”

Mental health professionals are embracing this new research. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is calling the new report a welcome “wake-up call” for the overlooked issue of geriatric mental health care. A spokesperson calls this problem “. . . something we need to attend to urgently.”

Aging and Mental Health

Aging does not accelerate mental health issues, but, when they appear, they are often overlooked, although these problems tend to be more complex in seniors. As older adults face increasing physical health issues–and the medications they take to combat them–often mask senior mental health needs.

For example, seniors with untreated depression have more trouble controlling conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Aging also may create other physical and mental issues.

Older adults’ bodies often metabolize alcohol and recreational or prescription drugs differently than when they were younger, increasing the risks of overdose or addiction. Also, another psychological problem often appears when seniors become overburdened with grief. As their family and friends die in greater numbers, senior grief can generate depression.

More Geriatric Psychiatrists Needed

The Institute of Medicine fears that there will be insufficient geriatric psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. They recommend that all medical professionals with geriatric patients get training in spotting the signs of senior mental health problems. The Institute also urges Medicare and Medicaid to cooperate, paying for needed mental health care and funding appropriate geriatric mental health training programs for practitioners.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on ways to improve senior mental health care? Are you concerned about senior family or friends having untreated mental or substance abuse problems?

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