Renewed Efforts in Senior Mental Health Treatment

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More than 20% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental or neurological disorder, and older people are more likely to experience several health conditions at the same time, including diabetes, hearing loss and osteoarthritis, according to The World Health Organization.

Given these statistics, providers and lawmakers alike say they are looking for ways to better treat behavioral health issues in older adults and help improve their quality of life.

An April 3 webcast hosted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Quality Improvement Organization Program explored strategies to help older adults at risk for behavioral health disorders. During the webcast, Denise Warren, mobile assessor and community liaison for Peak View Behavioral Health, a Colorado mental health hospital, outlined some key factors and treatment plans for mental health care in older adults.

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, and one in five Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, Warren said. But, she added, with proper care and treatment, many individuals can recover from mental illness or an emotional disorder. 

Warren noted that the most common mental health disorders affecting older adults are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and eating disorders. She said to effectively treat mental health disorders, it’s important to understand five key factors that affect their mental well-being:

  1. Participation in meaningful activities
  2. Discrimination
  3. Relationships
  4. Poverty
  5. Physical health

For example, older adults are more likely to experience events such as bereavement, a drop in socioeconomic status with retirement, or an increase in physical ailments — all of which can often lead to isolation, loneliness or mental distress, Warren said. In addition, one in six people experiences elder abuse, which can lead to extreme psychological disorders. 

Today there is a wide variety of treatment options available for older adults with mental health disorders, including inpatient care, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient care, group and individual therapy as well as medication. Additionally, political leaders are getting involved in the cause by drafting new legislation that would provide alternative treatment options for patients with mental health disorders.

Recognizing the urgent need for action addressing mental health in the elderly community, Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced The Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act (H.R. 1301) last month. The goal is to make it easier for Medicare beneficiaries to receive mental health care by providing access to mental health services through telemedicine in their own home, regardless of where they live. 

Further validating the effort, AARP officially endorsed the bill, saying it believes mental health is a fundamental component of overall health. Mental illness affects people of all ages and incomes and can be as debilitating as any other major medical illness … and as the Medicare population grows, the number of people seeking treatment will grow.”

When asked about the new legislation during the Q&A portion of the webinar, Warren said that anything designed to increase access to mental health care resources could only be beneficial.