Mental Health in Aging Services

May 14, 2013 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


Within the general population of older adults and in aging services settings especially, challenges to older adults’ mental health are rife. Large proportions of older adults in aging services settings have mental disorders, and even those without mental disorders may face challenges to their mental health that test the limits of their usual ways of coping. (See Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in Older Adults for an overview. )

Several barriers impede aging services organizations’ efforts to support their residents’ and clients’ mental health. Many people feel that it is normal, even expected, for older adults to face certain mental health issues, such as depression or depressive symptoms. Stigma about acknowledging the need for help among residents, family members, and staff; less-than-ideal payment models; and organizational structures and staffing that make it difficult to provide adequate support are a few other factors.

But older adults’ mental health needs must not be ignored. Critical events such as a resident’s suicide are a major concern. But other risks include physical injury to staff, other residents, or family members; improper treatment; other residents’ or family members’ fear of agitated residents; increased staff turnover; liability and regulatory risks; and adverse media coverage or loss of market share (Barbera “Mental Health”). Unaddressed mental health needs may also have a major impact on residents’ quality of life and satisfaction with the services provided.

Fortunately, aging services organizations can do many things to support residents’ mental health. A comprehensive approach goes beyond just access to mental health professionals. It requires both broad measures to support the mental health of all residents and targeted strategies to meet the specific needs of individual residents. This Guidance Article discusses the challenge posed by older adults’ mental health needs, approaches to mental health in aging services, and a few key mental health issues in these settings.

Types of mental and behavioral health issues that may...

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