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Treatment and care strategies to deal with mental health needs of older persons

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Janvi Doshi Sutaria, Psychologist & Outreach Associate, Mpower-The Centre, Mumbai highlights the strategies important for mental health needs of older persons

Senior citizens or the geriatric population is the one suffering from the maximum physical health problems because of their age. They are also the population suffering from different mental health concerns because of various factors like loneliness, feeling inadequate because of rapid technological upgrades, physical conditions, loss of loved ones, loss of motivation in life, etc.

In India, there is a dearth of clinical and psychological health professionals that have specialised in understanding, diagnosing and treating mental health concerns faced by the geriatric population. For doctors and those working in the health care management department, every second client they must be coming across would be a senior citizen. A lot of times the physiological concerns that they come with stem from their psychological issues.

Lack of skills to understand the psychological concerns of the geriatric population by the clinicians may result in an increase in the feelings of loneliness, not being understood, isolation, and loss of willingness to live. When clinicians fail to recognise the mental health needs of older citizens, their way of communication might be insensitive and their perspective of seeing the problem that the individual is going through may not be appropriate.

In order to be extra cautious and careful about not mistreating the old client or not missing to consider their psychological concerns, a clinician must spend some time asking the client about their routine, sleep, eating schedules, physical activity, etc. This will give a quick understanding of how the individual is spending one’s day and if there are any psychological problems that may stem from loneliness, boredom, lethargy, or unhealthy lifestyle.

It may also be important to understand if there have been any drastic changes in the senior citizen’s immediate past. A lot of times it’s possible that they would have lost their spouse, family member, or friend, or they would have recently got retired, or they would have relocated. With age, the ability and capacity to adjust, the openness to change and the flexibility reduces. This may cause stubborn thoughts which may lead to psychological issues.

Statistically, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations are highly prevalent in the geriatric population. Other neurological issues like Alzheimer’s and Dementia are highly common with old age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 5-7% of senior citizens get impacted by some or the other mental health concern or neurological conditions or both.

A few of the best strategies that clinicians can use while working with the geriatric population are as follows:

  • Showing compassion while rapport building and history taking is extremely essential in order to make the old individual feel comfortable to open up about their personal thoughts and emotions.
  • It is essential to treat them as adults, respect their opinions, understanding that they are experienced. A lot of times as age increases, family members stop including them in big decisions, which makes senior citizens feel left out and makes them start doubting their abilities.
  • With individuals having health or any other kind of anxiety, clinicians can teach some breathing techniques and relaxation strategies.
  • With individuals showing depressive symptoms, clinicians can recommend healthier changes in lifestyle.
  • Clinicians can investigate the personality of the client and the activities that would earlier interest the patient. A little motivation towards patients resuming their hobbies or getting involved in new activities can help them go long way.
  • Socialising is extremely essential for the geriatric population to get a sense of belongingness. It is important for them to meet more like-minded people to get rid of loneliness and boredom. This is another area clinicians can motivate their senior citizen cases to dwell into.

The geriatric population covers over 17% of the total world population, and this percentage is expected to keep rising because of the new age technologies that help increase the years of life. The well-being of this population has been neglected over decades because of which we have an enormous number of unhappy and distressed individuals around the world. Just a little care, concern and understanding towards this population can help decrease psychological concerns and improve their mental health!

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