(Geriatric Mental Health is Vital, by Dr. Ajith Potluri, first appeared in the Public Opinion Newspaper. To read it online, click here.)
Caring for an aging loved one? Today people are living much longer lives. With the percentage of people over the age of 65 expected to double by 2030, we’ll all need to consider how to care for our aging population. Primary medical care is the cornerstone of health, but it’s also important not to neglect the mental health of our elderly as they age.
What is geriatric mental health?
A geriatric psychiatrist is a medical doctor and a psychiatrist with special training in diagnosing and treatment of mental health problems and issues affecting older adults. These health problems can include dementia, depression, anxiety, late life schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and alcohol and substance abuse problems. Geriatric mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers, can address concerns about coping with change, stress, death, depression, sleep and memory problems. Geriatric mental health professionals also offer valuable help to older adults who are coping with changes in health and function. Sometimes, emotional problems occur after they suffer sudden medical events in their life like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other medical and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain conditions.
Part of the health care team
Geriatric mental health professionals also understand the family’s role in caring for the patient and provide education to family members and other care givers who are involved in the care of older adults in a long-term care facility (nursing home), independent living, or assisted living facility. Geriatric mental health professionals are also a valuable member of the health care team in various health care settings—advising primary care doctors in complex situations involving both medical and mental illness, educating nurses and other health care professionals in long-term care or independent living facilities, directing home and health service providers, educating the community, and advocating for the public health care policy.
Geriatric mental health professionals see patients in a many settings, including office, hospital, clinic, nursing home or an independent or assisted living facility. Usually patients or family members initially approach their family care physicians and seek additional resources to find a geriatric psychiatrist for meeting their needs and to request a referral.
Find a provider
Sometimes patients and families need to travel to find a geriatric psychiatrist as there are very limited specialists available in the field. The need for this specialty is growing as the older adult population is expected to double in the next 20 years. Families can contact the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation for a list of names of the geriatric psychiatrists in the local area. Visit www.GMHFonline.org or call (301) 654-7850. The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation was established by the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry to raise awareness of psychiatric and mental problems and issues affecting older adults, eliminate the stigma of mental illness and treatment, promote healthy aging strategies, and increase access to quality mental health care for older adults.
Dr. Ajith Potluri is a psychiatrist and medical director of Keystone Behavioral Health at 820 Fifth Ave. in Chambersburg.