By Jack Mahdasian, MD
Bob Hope said “You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake!”
Currently there are over 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By the year 2030 that number will exceed 72 million. Of those, 5.5 - 8 million will suffer from a mental illness – which may be a conservative estimate.
This led Dan Blazer, MD, the Chair of the Institute of Medicine, whose group recently investigated this issue to comment: “The burden of mental illness and substance abuse disorders in older adults in the United States borders on a crisis.”
The population itself is growing older: people aged 85 and older represent the fastest growing segment of our population. Getting older – or aging – is the leading risk factor for the onset of Alzheimer’s Dementia.
As our nation has become more aware of this debilitating illness; there has been an increase in funding for medical research to find a cure.
Recently, the National Institute of Health announced a large multi-site study to try to better understand Alzheimer’s disease. In learning more about the illness, it is hoped to target therapies that will help delay or even prevent the progress of the disease.
Many institutions around the world are focusing their energies in learning more about this illness. Though a cure has not been found, scientists are hopeful that their concerted efforts will lead to a breakthrough.
Treatment for this growing population has become increasingly more challenging due to physical health problems complicating psychological problems (or vice-versa); the limited time and resources available to families; and ever stricter guidelines placed on nursing homes.
Primary care doctors are often the first to see these patients, are most likely to make the diagnosis, and initiate treatment. With assistance from family members, who provide important clinical information, the plan and delivery of care becomes more beneficial for the patient and increases adherence to treatment.
Family members, typically spouses or adult children, bear the burden of care. This becomes more apparent when patient’s need closer supervision and care than at home. The continuum of service ranges from adult foster care home to assisted living to nursing home. Care may require referral to a geriatric consultant or even inpatient care.
In West Michigan, Pine Rest continues to be the primary referral center for behavioral services. The Pine Rest older adult inpatient unit offers expertise in the bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to care for this frail population. Pine Rest also has an outpatient service, Center for Senior Care, and many clinicians are specifically credentialed for work with older adults.
We’re all going to get older. Hopefully, we will do that graciously and perhaps even celebrate old age. We all have opportunities to help an older family member or friend age well and even assist in getting them the help they need when that burden becomes overwhelming.
Jack A. Mahdasian, MD, MA, is senior psychiatrist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Dr. Mahdasian works primarily in Pine Rest’s Older Adult Services.
In recognition of Alzheimer’s disease awareness month in November, Pine Rest will offer a Memory Screening Day on November 13 at three sites: Zeeland Hospital, Calvin College and Metro Health Hospital. Screening times are from 9 a.m. – Noon and 1-3 p.m. More details are available at the website, www.pinerest.org.