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Geriatrics and Mental Health

by Karen Mozzer on 9/29/14 11:56 AM

As the nation’s population ages, the need for mental and behavioral health services continues to rise. Geriatrics is a medical specialty that focuses on the physical and psychiatry needs of the elderly. According to the geriatric mental healthGeriatric Mental Health Foundation, 5 to 20 percent of older adults have experienced depression. About 11 percent have anxiety disorders. It’s important to have good psychiatry care for seniors, as even mild depression can lower the immune system and compromise the ability to fight cancers and infections.

Common Causes of Mental Health Issues for the Elderly

There are a wide array of challenges and physical health issues that seniors face. All may contribute to a mental health problem and benefit from psychological and psychiatry care. Here’s a list of some of the issues that can lead to a mental health issue for seniors:

  • Having to give up independence and live with relatives or in a nursing home can lead to depression.
  • The loss of a loved one, especially an elderly spouse
  • Having to deal with the onset of a serious illness, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer
  • The inability to do things that were once greatly enjoyed

The Role of a Geriatric Psychiatrist

Older adults have special social, emotional and physical needs. A geriatric psychiatrist has special training in the diagnosis of mental disorders that commonly affect the elderly population. These professionals take a comprehensive approach, including working with other health care professionals, listening to the concerns of the older adult and helping families. Co-existing medical illnesses, social concerns, family issues and medications are integrated into a comprehensive program of care.

A psychiatrist who specializes in geriatrics can see a patient in many settings, including nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities and clinics. As a valuable member of the health care team, geriatric psychiatrists advise primary care physicians involved in home health services and work closely educating nurses in long-term care facilities. These psychiatrists are a good ally when it’s uncertain whether the elderly’s mental health problems are due to depression, dementia or complications of multiple physical illnesses.


Depression training video for caregivers to learn how to identify and manage depression

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