Physical ailments are pretty much a given as one ages and the healthcare system in the US is attempting to gear up for what’s been termed the “silver tsunami”—in other words, the aging of the large numbers of people called the baby boomers.
The Institute of Medicine has recently reported that the US is lacking in doctors and mental health professionals who are trained to addresses the emotional needs, such as depression and substance abuse, in an older population. These are issues that clinicians are regularly confronted with and which many will suffer in the normal course of aging.
People are living longer because of medical advances but there are new issues that will arise as many of those elderly individuals face a number of major life changes, and mental health issues, which will include dementia. It is estimated that between 5 and 8 million Americans over 65 are currently suffering with some sort of major mental health or substance abuse issue. As people age their support systems tend to shrink which presents other challenges for obvious reasons.
While elderly people are not more likely to have a psychological issue, when they do, the landscape of its development and treatment looks very different than it does in younger or middle aged individuals. There are typically more physical health problems present; therefore, the emotional issues can be missed. When these issues are overlooked (for instance, in someone suffering from major depression) self-care begins to decline and medications can be skipped or misused. Because grief is a common element as we age, due to the loss of a spouse or friends, it can be difficult to determine what is normal grief and what is clinical depression.
There are so many unique factors to consider when addressing the emotional needs of an elderly population and with the aging of large numbers of people we will be facing a crisis in our country unless we are able to train many more professionals than we currently have. Doctors who specialize in the geriatric population, along with all other health care providers that service the elderly, will need to have additional education in the area of psychology and be trained to recognize the presence of a mood disorder as well as to differentiate psychological symptoms from physical ones. By the year 2030 the number of seniors in this country will just about double. This nation is in desperate need of a plan to be able to better assist an entire generation of people as they enter into their golden years.
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