Mental health problems of aging Americans could go unmet, report says

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted July 23, 2012

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The medical community is not prepared to care for the mental health needs and substance abuse problems of the nation’s aging population, according to an Institute of Medicine report issued July 10. As a result, millions of older adults could face obstacles in getting these health issues diagnosed and treated, the IOM said.

Contributing to the problem is a shortage of mental health and substance abuse specialists and the country’s surging number of older adults. By 2030, an estimated 72.1 million people 65 and older will live in the U.S., up from 40.3 million in 2010, the report said. As many as 8 million older adults (up to 20% of the elderly population) have at least one mental health or substance use condition, according to the IOM. Depressive disorders and psychiatric symptoms are among the most common conditions (link).

Commonly used medications by seniors and losses such as the death of a spouse could worsen mental health problems and lead to severe or debilitating symptoms.

The IOM report calls for improved training of health professionals in how to meet the needs of older adults with mental health and substance use conditions. It also recommends that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services consider alternative payment methods that would better fund effective services and care for this population.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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