Why Are Millions Of The Elderly Deprived of Care

Posted on

Oct 27, 2015

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Although adults 60 and older constitute 13 % of the United States population, their use of mental health services accounts for only 7 percent of all care. It is estimated that 18 to 25 % of elders are in need of mental health care. The suicide rate of the elderly, at 21 %, is the highest of all age groups in the Country. Every day 17 elders kill themselves!

Why are millions of the elderly deprived of care?


Many elders resist treatment based on images propagated by mass media and culture. Often, portrayals of the mentally ill are frightening and powerful sources of misinformation. It's extremely important to have information available about what mental illness really is and how it can be effectively treated.


Misperceptions about older people by the public have also impaired service delivery. In a society confronted with budgetary restraints, often the older population has been cast aside, on the basis that they are too old to benefit from services. A society that places such great emphasis on youth may not lend enthusiastic support to better mental health care for geriatrics.

Care Givers

Generally, the first person elders turn to for help with problems that require mental health treatment is their primary care physician. Many physicians have limited training in geriatrics. Elders tend to assume that complaints such as sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, and mood differences are related to physical problems. This may be reinforced by caregivers, who often attribute such symptoms to the aging process. A study of elderly suicides in Chicago found that 20% of the suicide victims had seen their primary care physicians within 24 hours of their suicide, 41% within seven days and 84 % within 30 days.

A Positive Perspective

While many of these barriers continue to impair elderly mental health services, there are innovative programs that have achieved success:

Mobile programs with staff that treats consumers in their own homes or transport patients to and from outpatient care, providing them meals and eliminating isolation.

Programs specifically developed recognizing that older people are a special population with unique needs. Treating elders has been found to be just as effective as treating young adults and middle-aged people. Supportive therapy and drug treatment can be safely administered with beneficial results.

Collaborative training sessions conducted by staff of aging, mental health agencies, and Primary Care Physicians allowing each to have a better understanding of the services and limitations of providers serving elders.

Editors Note: This article was submitted by Gary R Miller.
Gary is CEO of Peak View Behavioral Health and may be reached at 719-444-8484 or by email at gmiller@strategicbh.com. For more information visit Strategic Behavioral Health on the web at: www.strategicbh.com.

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