Older Adults and Mental Illness: Assessment and Approach

Older adults, like the rest of the population, often suffer from mental health challenges. The CDC says about 20% of older adults have a mental health concerns.

The first step in getting older adults help is a mental health assessment, including an inventory of any medications they take. While psychotropic medications, drugs used to manage mental health issues, are necessary for many older adults, the fact remains the elderly often are prescribed too many medications to combat mental illness.

A variety of studies have shown up to 53% of “assisted living residents receive one or more psychotropic medications” and “more than half of…older adults…admitted to nursing homes receive psychotropic medications within 2 weeks of their admission.”

Are all these prescriptions appropriate? Most likely they are or were at one time.

But what about the cases in which they aren’t? As physician, these are the ones I want to catch; many psychotropic medications have significant, negative side-effects. If I can lessen the impact in some way, I’ve done my job.

A team approach is the best way to address mental health issues, including appropriate use of medications. The team should include social workers, physicians, mental health professionals and others.

In addition, we’ve found older adults find value in participating in support groups focusing on a particular issue, such as grieving, struggles with chronic illnesses or family issues. The same is highly beneficial for caregivers, who should be offered tools and educational materials to improve coping skills. Caregiver support groups are a great way to help relieve stress while meeting with others facing similar issues.

Patricia Litvak, MD, an expert in medical issues facing older adults, is lead medical director at InnovAge



This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health or medical needs.

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