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Older adults' mental health needs

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Albany/HV: Older adults' mental health needs
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When symptoms of sadness last longer than a few days or weeks, and interfere with daily life, it's often depression. More than 18 percent of older adults are diagnosed with depression.

However, due to underreporting, those numbers could actually be much higher.

"Depression is not a normal part of aging. It's an illness," said Dr. Stephen Bartels, the director of the Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging.

In fact, men over the age of 85 have the highest suicide rate of any group in the U.S. A lot of things can cause depression in older adults, including leaving the workforce, loss of loved ones, and isolation.

"Loneliness and isolation is actually probably the biggest problem older people face. One of the solutions is to think about ways to provide supports to people where they live, for communities and neighborhoods to rally around those seniors," said Bartels.

Depression can cause physical complications in older adults.

"People don't recover as well from medical problems, and end up in the emergency room and hospital more. And it costs lots of money. So it's a big problem and it's growing," said Bartels.

Some experts say while we do have the funding and resources needed to support older adults' mental health, it will take drastic changes to the current system to use those resources efficiently.

"It's just being spent, unfortunately, on procedures and focusing on different organs, as opposed to the whole person, in ways that really aren't helping people to get their whole health and wellness as they age," said Bartels.

"Under the Affordable Care Act, they are reimbursed to do depression screening, but they don't have any extra money to perform the followup that's needed. They need to have a way to pay for the care coordination that's going to drive whatever treatment you engage in. It's hard to do screening when you can't follow up. It's almost unethical to do screening when you can't follow up," said Judith Huober, the director of the Syracuse Jewish Family Service.

That's why experts say there's a need for more community and religious organizations to help seniors where they live, by not only encouraging volunteers to spend time with them but training them to recognize and report depression symptoms.

For more information, check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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