Senior Mental Health and Illness in Nursing Homes

Elderly woman with a caregiver in blueAging, mental illness, and physical disability and sickness can manifest concurrently in the elderly. Senior homes that provide health care services can be especially important for this population. Staff are fully trained to deal with physical illnesses and to acquire the additional skills to handle patients with mental health conditions.

Dealing with Mental Illnesses

State mental hospitals housed the majority of people with chronic mental illnesses all the way up to the 1970s. The institutions were publicly perceived to be places of abuse and neglect and the practice of state institutionalization was considered inhumane. It was found kinder, more medically appropriate, and cost-effective to release institutionalized patients and integrate them back into the community.

Unfortunately, mental health facilities and community-based group homes are ill-equipped to manage patients who live beyond their 60s and are experiencing, in addition to mental health concerns, age-related diseases and disabilities. As a result, nursing homes have to accommodate a growing number of seniors with mental health conditions.

Seniors who suffer from both mental illnesses and physical disabilities are more likely to be treated and diagnosed only for the latter. For instance, depression in seniors may be overlooked because symptoms look as though they stem from a physical disease. Weight loss, poor appetite, and problems with daily functioning may be taken as symptoms of a gastrointestinal problem or of arthritis.

Addressing the Needs of Mentally Ill Seniors

Mental health issues in seniors range from major depressive and bipolar disorder to anxiety-related illnesses and schizophrenia. These require individualized care and specialized treatment strategies. Nursing facilities and community organizations find ways to address the varying needs of individuals with different types of mental illnesses.

However, the staff at a nursing facility may not always have the experience and training needed to deal with individuals suffering from chronic serious mental illnesses. Not all senior homes are readily equipped with the tools necessary to provide optimal care for patients with different kinds of mental illnesses.

Improving Staff Response

Staff training can improve care provided to seniors with mental illnesses. This includes training staff to be more attentive to mental illness and to focus less on the stigma. The facilities themselves need to identify and address the fearfulness, prejudices, and lack of accurate knowledge and information that their staff and caregivers may have.

Further, staff should be given the choice of whether or not to work with residents who have mental illnesses. Their confidence and success may well be largely dependent on their willingness to care for this population. Behavioral issues of senior patients with a chronic mental illness can be reduced and made less problematic if patients receive appropriate treatments and are compliant.

Senior homes also need to have a solid relationship with the area’s mental health community. Partnerships are essential if a home is to be successful in taking in and treating patients with chronic mental illnesses.

Seniors with mental illnesses can be poorly understood and inappropriately treated in nursing homes with inexperienced and untrained staff. This can be easily remedied by improving staff perceptions and responses to the population with mental illnesses.

Posted on by George Cummins in Healthy Times

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