Friday, June 15, 2018

Why Mental Illness Is So Hard to Spot in Seniors

Why Mental Illness Is So Hard to Spot in Seniors?

“Indeed, compared with younger adults and middle-aged adults, adults over age 65 were much less likely to be asked by doctors; if they felt tense or anxious ? and were much less likely to be referred by family doctors for mental health specialty care,” says Dr. Susan W. Lehmann, clinical director of the division of geriatric psychiatry and neuropsychiatry and director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Day Hospital at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. A more recent study of seniors receiving home health services found that 23 percent screened positive for depression, yet less than 40 percent of those people were receiving treatment for depression.

There are a number of reasons why mental illness is under-diagnosed among seniors. An interesting finding of the telephone survey, Lehman says, was that older adults themselves were much less likely to perceive a need for mental health care than younger adults, so they may be less likely to bring up concerns with their primary care provider.

Ageism and perceived stigma bout mental health care may play a role as well. “Many older adults and their family members may incorrectly believe that depression is normal with aging,” she says. “Given the time constraints of outpatient medical appointments, the primary care provider may feel challenged to review these ongoing health conditions in a short time frame and may not feel there is time to discuss mental health concerns unless the patient brings it up.

Family and loved ones have an important role to play in encouraging a senior who may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness to receive an appropriate evaluation, Lehman says. “Speaking with the senior’s primary care provider is often the right first step,” she explains. If specialty care is recommended, loved ones can help ensure that the individual follows through with the appointment and recommended treatment.

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