Help For Seniors With Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues

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“As baby boomers age there’s growing demand for mental health services and growing awareness of how depression and anxiety really can impact people’s lives,” says Ted Wander, MD, medical director for inpatient psychiatry at LDS Hospital . “By treating these issues adequately we can improve not only the mental health of our seniors but their physical health as well.”

To accommodate the growing geriatric and mental health needs for seniors, geropsychiatry units are opening in hospitals across the country, including LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“The purpose of our new unit is to help treat and stabilize patients so they can return to their homes, other care facilities, and to their families and friends," Dr. Wander adds. 

LDS Hospital’s new geropsychiatry unit focuses on the unique health needs of aging patients who suffer from substance abuse, depression, anxiety, dementia, or experience sudden changes in their mental well being. 

“The focus is on anxiety, depression, and the assessment of cognitive status,” says Dr. Wander. “Many people aged 60 to 80 are wondering if their memory loss is normal or their family members may be concerned about their cognitive abilities so we help out with that, as well." 

While depression and sadness might seem to go hand and hand, many depressed seniors claim not to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or worsening headaches, are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.

According to an article on HelpGuide.com, older adults who deny feeling sad or depressed may still have major depression. Here are the clues to look for: 

  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socializing and hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting medications, neglecting personal hygiene)

The very nature of depression interferes with a person's ability to seek help, draining energy and self-esteem. For depressed seniors, raised in a time when mental illness was highly stigmatized and misunderstood, it can be even more difficult—especially if they don’t believe depression is a real illness, are too proud or ashamed to ask for assistance, or fear becoming a burden to their families, according to the to HelpGuide.com article 

If an elderly person you care about is depressed, you can make a difference by offering emotional support. Listen to your loved one with patience and compassion. You don’t need to try to “fix” someone’s depression; just being there to listen is enough. Don’t criticize feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. You can also help by seeing that your friend or family member gets an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.