Health Workers Are Encountering More Geriatric Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues

Television advertisements during the news hour cater to the largest demographic of our country. Pain treatment and health advertisements monopolize the television to speak to a group that is settling into an age where they will need more care and treatment.

Pain management, physical therapy, and medicine for aging ailments are not the only treatments that this group needs. A July 10 report stated that 1 in 5 seniors, age 65 or older, has a mental health or substance abuse problem.

Before patients become too numerous for the health workforce, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests that the United States prepare for this wave of health needs.

A Call for More Healthcare Workers

Currently, the IOM estimates that 5.6 million to 8 million of America’s senior citizens have a mental health or substance abuse disorder. This number is only expected to grow. The concern is that emerging healthcare graduates won’t be able to keep up with the numbers of boomers who need care.

The hope is that the US Department of Health and Human Services can nationally relay the need for health professionals to be trained to help this aging generation.

A Call for A Highly Trained Workforce

Not only will the nation need a larger workforce, but one specialized in care for geriatric mental health and substance abuse. Health specialists will need to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse in older adults that sometimes blend and are confusing to differentiate.

Symptoms of substance abuse and mental illness may resemble the normal mental processes and physical limitations of an aging person. A specially trained health care worker can help differentiate between these symptoms and know how to evaluate persons for treatment and care.

The most common mental health problems afflicting older adults are depression and dementia. While a small population of seniors is using illicit drugs, substance abuse in this generation is rising as more people are becoming addicted to prescription drugs, either from misuse or abuse. Researchers also believe that illicit drug use will eventually rise in this generation.

A Call for Medicare/Medicaid Reform

The IOM report recommends changes in Medicare and Medicaid. They fear that limitations on health providers and services will keep boomers from getting proper care. They advocate more choices and options for seniors to choose the care they need.

The report also wants to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid guarantee their coverage in their payment rules. They recommend that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services evaluate their payment methods to better serve those with mental health and substance abuse problems.

As the nation ages, health care expertise must rise right along with it. Treatment is most effective when it is specialized for certain illnesses and disorders and for certain age groups. Treatment specialists will continue to search for the best ways to care for patients with each generation’s needs.

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