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NJ Senior Health: Elderly Depression

Studies show that a significant percentage of seniors experience mental disorders that are not a normal part of aging.  These include anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, mood disorders and behavioral problems.

Yet, psychiatric illnesses in older adults have long tended to be minimized, sometimes with tragic consequences.  This is why the rate of suicide is higher than any other age group and twice the national average.

“Many elderly people don’t have a voice,” said Dr. Jack Dang, a psychiatrist who is board certified in geriatric psychiatry.  “They suffer in silence because they are unable to relate their problems to someone who understands.  Access to psychiatric care has long been a problem for them.  And most families and nursing homes don’t know how to care for them.”

The lack of knowledgeable experts constitutes a major part of the problem.  According to the American Medical Association, there are less than 2,600 board certified geriatric psychiatrists for 35 million seniors – or about one per 14,000 Americans 65 and older.   Families and nursing home personnel often fail to recognize mental or emotional illness in an elderly person, which can be confused with the symptoms of multiple medical problems.

Consider that older Americans account for only 7% of all inpatient mental health services, 6% of community-based mental health services and 9% of private psychiatric care – yet comprise 13% of the population.  In addition to a shortage of appropriate health specialists, experts cite barriers to access, a denial of problems among the elderly, and a lack of coordination between mental health and aging networks.

“The quiet, silent patient who is losing weight often isn’t noticed as depressed and can end up starving him or herself to death,” said Dr. Dang.  “The goal is to educate families and health providers that neither depression nor memory loss is a normal part of aging.”

According to Dr. Dang, 40% of older adults with medical problems also have signs of depression.  “This is a strong, resilient group of people,” he said, “who have lived active and productive lives through multiple economic downturns, wars and tragedy.  Now, they are dealing with major life changes – loss of spouse, friends, siblings, even children; of job and career; of the ability to walk and drive; of their very independence.

“Post-traumatic disorders also can occur, from as far back as 50, 60, 70 years ago, perhaps from the Holocaust, an episode in a war, or a personal tragedy,” said Dr. Dang.  “These are intrusive memories, flashbacks of painful memories from the past.”

New Jersey’s Expert Home Care provides professional and reliable care and assistance for NJ seniors, helping them with their daily living activities since 1984. Please call us when you need help at 800-848-2336.

Posted by: Frank Esposito, Vice President of Expert Home Care

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