July 12, 2012

New Report Addresses Baby Boomer Mental Health Crisis

Connie K. Ho for - Your Universe Online

A new report states that the U.S. isn´t prepared to meet the mental health care needs of elderly patients.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report referred to the growing population of baby boomers who are aging rapidly. The authors of the article stated that the country does not have enough specialists, primary care physicians, nurses, and other trained providers to help aging patients work through dementia, depression, and other mental health issues. As well, many of these older patients have difficulty in addressing the problem of abusing or misusing prescription medicine. According to Kaiser Health News, in 2010, almost one in five members of the elderly community, as well as around 5.6 million to 8 million Americans who were 65 years of age, had suffered a mental health or substance abuse problem.

“There is a conspicuous lack of national attention either to preparing the health care workforce [“¦] or to ensuring sufficient numbers of personnel for the rapidly growing elderly population,” the IOM committee related in the report.

Physicians believe that stress from losing a professional identity during retirement or a loss of support system due to friend or family deaths could be added factors to mental health issues.

"There'll never be enough geriatric psychiatrists or geriatric medicine specialists to take care of this huge wave of people that are aging," Dr. Paul D.S. Kirwin, president of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, told CBS News.

Apart from stating issues that needed to be addressed, the authors of the report recommended a variety of solutions and government actions that need to be taken.

"The burden of mental illness and substance abuse disorders in older adults in the United States borders on a crisis," noted IOM chair Dr. Dan Blazer, a member of Duke University, in the report. "Yet this crisis is largely hidden from the public and many of those who develop policy and programs to care for older people."

One of the recommendations in the report centered on government programs that could expand training and forgiveness loans for health care professionals who would specialize in this particular area. As well, they stated that there was a need to change up Medicare and Medicaid practices to provide better health care delivery. Recently, the government has taken note of these issues and is working to boost mental health staffing for military veterans. This group is a particularly vulnerable subset in the elderly community. As such, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced last April that it would increase the number of psychologists and other staff members.

“We need to change mindsets in both training and delivery of care,” commented Peter Rabins, an IOM committee member and psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in the Kaiser Health News article.

For mental health experts, the information is vital to understanding the issues that plague the senior population.

"This is a wake-up call for many reasons," commented Dr. Ken Duckworth of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in an article by CBS News. ““¦ Quite profound for us as a nation, and something we need to attend to urgently.”