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Mental Healthcare: A Call to Enhance Senior Home Care Services and Combat Senior Isolation

www.theprobe.in | November 2, 2023

In the realm of elderly well-being, mental healthcare is of paramount importance. This examination underscores the pressing need for geriatric counselling and community initiatives in our fast-paced world, shining a spotlight on the frequently overlooked crisis among the elderly.

Mental healthcare for the elderly is often overshadowed in today’s fast-paced world, leading us to inadvertently underestimate the significance of our senior citizens. We must not lose sight of the fact that the golden years are brimming with distinctive opportunities and challenges. It is high time we shed light on the key role that geriatric counselling plays in ensuring the well-being of our elderly population and in perpetuating the invaluable wisdom and experiences they offer to our society.

On a global scale, the ageing demographic is expanding at an unprecedented rate. According to the projections of the World Health Organization, by the year 2050, the number of individuals aged 60 or older will have doubled worldwide, constituting roughly 22% of the total population. The demand for counselling services for older individuals is on the rise in tandem with this demographic shift.

Why Is There a Demand for Counselling Support for the Elderly?

Mental healthcare for the elderly is a critical aspect often overlooked in India, where a significant portion of the elderly population relies on their children or close family members for care and support. However, the ageing process brings about a multitude of physical and psychological changes that pose challenges for caregivers. The realm of geriatric care becomes increasingly demanding due to heightened emotional needs, alterations in daily routines, and a lack of expertise in effective management methods (Dev & Narayan, 2021). Older individuals frequently encounter adverse events such as bereavement, income reduction, or a diminished sense of purpose after retirement. Despite their substantial contributions to society, ageism affects many seniors and can detrimentally affect their mental well-being.

Approximately 25% of older adults experience loneliness and social isolation, which significantly heightens the risk of mental health problems in later life. Elderly abuse encompasses various forms of mistreatment, including physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, or financial abuse, as well as neglect. Shockingly, one in six older individuals falls victim to abuse, often perpetrated by their own caregivers. Such abuse can lead to profound consequences, including anxiety and sadness.

Mental health care for the elderly is a pressing concern, especially as many elderly individuals take on the role of caring for spouses with long-term medical conditions, such as dementia. The responsibilities of caregiving can exact a toll on the caregiver’s mental health, given the considerable demands involved. Many older individuals experience sub-threshold depressive symptoms as a major depressive disorder, with at least one in twenty suffering from the disorder. While these symptoms can affect individuals in their 60s and 70s, they tend to be more prevalent among those who are more frail. These issues, collectively known as geriatric syndromes, not only significantly distress the affected individuals and their families but are also associated with a higher risk of dementia, reduced daily functioning, increased utilization of healthcare services, and even suicide.  

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day was “Mental health is a universal human right.” It prompts us to ponder how we can ensure that the elderly are not overlooked or marginalised.

Enhancing Senior Home Care Services for Mental Well-being

Senior home care services offer a wide array of effective treatment options, encompassing medical, psychological, and social therapies. The significance of such services becomes apparent when we consider the challenges of identifying depression in the elderly, as its symptoms can often be mistaken for physical ailments or even dementia. In these situations, medical practitioners play a crucial role in assisting senior citizens in adapting to these changes and distinguishing them from more serious conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. By actively promoting an engaged and healthy ageing process, we can contribute to the mental well-being of our senior citizens. Competent senior care services that cater to the needs of the elderly, providing safety and social support, and facilitating participation in community programs are key to preserving both mental and physical health of the elderly.

Community Programs: The Key to Combating Senior Isolation

One of the most effective strategies to combat senior isolation is to encourage seniors to participate in social activities and form new relationships. Local community centres, senior centres, and clubs often offer programs and events tailored to the interests and needs of elderly citizens. These centres serve as gathering places where seniors can meet others who share their interests and forge new friendships. Specifically designed programs and workshops for senior citizens, coupled with a welcoming environment for socialising and engaging in physical activities with like-minded peers, can significantly enhance the quality of life for our senior population. Collaboration with mental health clinics can further enhance the support provided by these community programs. 

To enhance services for senior citizens, it is imperative to create an environment that fosters such improvements. Raising awareness about mental health issues, the unique requirements of the elderly, and the available resources in this field is essential. It is vital to establish a framework that encourages constructive collaboration among mental health professionals, researchers, caregivers, and senior citizens themselves. Moreover, proactive efforts must be made to destigmatize mental health challenges among the elderly, encouraging open conversations and seeking timely help when needed. In addition, the integration of mental health education into senior care programs can empower both seniors and caregivers with the knowledge and tools to navigate mental well-being effectively.

Mental health care for the elderly should also encompass innovative approaches to address the current circumstances, where training healthcare professionals requires substantial time and resources. In countries like India, tailored training programs for family members, who form the backbone of the senior care system, can offer a cost-effective solution. Providing assistance, education, and guidance to family caregivers in developing nations can prove to be a highly efficient approach, demanding only a fraction of the resources required for institutionalised care.

A paradigm shift is urgently needed in the way we approach elderly care, moving beyond a mere emphasis on curative procedures to encompass long-term support and the management of chronic illnesses. The establishment of sufficient community-based services, such as day care centres, respite care facilities, halfway houses, and senior living communities, is crucial to ensure a seamless continuum of care following hospitalisation.

Mental health care is an integral component of the overall well-being of our elderly population. In conclusion, enhancing senior home care services and addressing the mental well-being of our elderly population require a concerted effort from society, policymakers, and healthcare professionals. By implementing these strategies and fostering a supportive environment, we can ensure that our senior citizens receive the care and attention they deserve, enabling them to enjoy their golden years to the fullest.

This article has been authored by Prof. Garima Rajan, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University, and Vidhi Mantry, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://theprobe.in/columns/mental-healthcare-a-call-to-enhance-senior-home-care-services-and-combat-senior-isolation/ )