Depression is more common among seniors than one might think, especially among those residing in long-term care facilities. Clinical depression has a high prevalence, ranging from 9% to nearly as high as 63% among residents in long-term care. According to reports from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, elderly long-term care residents suffering from depression are at a far greater risk of dying than those without it.
Mental health disorders are often left untreated among seniors but this can be improved with timely recognition and proper treatment at the facilities.
Depression among seniors is not a natural outcome of aging: rather, it represents functional decline among elders and requires proper treatment by the care community.
Tackling Mental Health in Long-Term Care
Taking care of one’s mental health can prove challenging for residents in long-term care settings. One study from the American Geriatrics Society disclosed mental health problems among 65 to 90% of nursing home residents. What’s worse is that some elders can also fall prey to nursing home abuse, which can result in long-term health issues such as anxiety and depression.
However, now there are ways for residents and their loved ones to better nourish their mental well-being while living in a long-term care facility. Residents and loved ones can reach out for support with regard to their mental health.
Most Prevalent Mental Health Problems
The uninformed might assume that mental health problems are uncommon among nursing home residents. Surprisingly common conditions include:
- Depression: Data shows that 20% to nearly 50% of nursing home residents suffer from depression. The more visible symptoms include negative mood changes, changing sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, confusion and restlessness.
- Anxiety: Residents in nursing homes suffer from anxiety under stressful situations. This would include worrying over daily activities, having fatigue, feeling nauseous, panic attacks and so on.
Causes of Common Mental Health Problems
There are many reasons as to why residents in long-term care suffer in terms of their mental health. Most residents don’t have any mental health problems upon entering a long-term care facility, only to develop them later on as a consequence of emotional abuse. While rare, this can occur when residents are being belittled, their requests being ignored, they are being yelled at or threatened with some form of violence. This can escalate into more serious mental issues like depression and anxiety.
Old age is among another set of factors that tends to cause mental health problems. Aging induces greater levels of daily stress, coping with drastic life changes such as an illness, the death of a loved one or moving into a long-term care facility.
Feelings of isolation tend to be quite common among older adults in nursing homes. This places them at a greater risk of suffering from depression or anxiety. Covid 19 exacerbated feelings of isolation among residents with restrictions put on nursing homes.
Resources Available For Residents’ Mental Health?
Residents in nursing homes can access a number of mental health services. Some of those resources include the following:
- Connecting with mental health providers: Psychologists and psychiatrists can assist nursing home residents in managing their mental health through in-person or telehealth visits. Seeking help from mental health professionals would allow residents to work their way through any emotions or deal with any trauma. Psychiatrists can offer medication to residents to better cope with mental health problems.
- Nursing home ombudsman: They advocate on behalf of residents in case of any issues they might be facing. Residents can reach out to them if they feel the nursing facility is not tending to their mental health properly. They will assist you in taking action while keeping residents safe.
- Social workers: They can help nursing home residents in several ways. Social workers can help residents connect with more mental health resources within the community if needed. They can also assist family members in charge of decisions for mentally impaired residents.
- Medications: Medications are useful in managing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Medications must be properly administered by staff at facilities so that there are no serious side effects and residents are not over-medicated.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health in a Long-Term Care Setting
Long-term care residents can suffer a great deal with regard to their mental health. However, there is a way around every problem. The following help:
- Staying connected with family and friends
- Keeping physically fit
- Getting in touch with a psychologist or social worker
- Taking part in group activities
The high prevalence of mental health problems in long-term care facilities makes this a public health issue and addressing it a top priority.
We need to step up and address the mental suffering of elders in long-term care: mental well-being is equally as important as one’s physical safety. Elders need to feel safe in long-term care settings where loved ones entrust them to be taken care of in the best possible way.
Equipping Long-Term Care Teams in the Long-Run
The fact that so many older people are suffering requires an active response from the federal government to equip long-term care facilities, and help residents with the support they need. The Biden-Harris administration plan for long-term care reform gives support to this, as it calls for the transforming of U.S mental health and crisis care systems.
Progress in this regard is hindered by a couple of factors such as the long-term care workforce being ill-equipped to identify and offer treatment for mental health disorders.
Staff at long-term care facilities rarely include behavioral health specialists: registered nurses, direct caregivers in charge of resident’s health seldom receive specialized training in the field of behavioral health.
This means there is the need for strategically planned education among licensed staff and direct caregivers: they must have the expertise that allows them to identify, and manage behaviors that are symptomatic of mental health disorders.
Long-term care organizations need to come together with community organizations that offer behavioral health services. With this, mental health professionals can help residents in long-term care facilities.
As the senior population grows, what the United States really needs is a trained workforce specifically in long-term care, that caters to both mental and physical health needs among older adults.
In the words of David Grabowski, PhD Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School,
“Tending to the mental health needs of residents in long-term care will be a key priority in the post-pandemic period.”
Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Treating Depression in Elderly Long-Term Care ResidentsAcknowledging, Recognizing, and Treating Depression in Elderly Long-Term Care Residents
Managing mental health in nursing homes.
Mental Health in Nursing Homes.
Fixing the mental health crisis in long-term care.
COVID and the Ongoing Mental Health Needs of Long-Term Care Residents.