Mental Health Services in Assisted Living

Jun 20, 2016

Mental Health Services in Assisted Living

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Mental health issues in older adults are no new issue. Actually, the estimated range of seniors living with a mental health disorder is between 15 and 20 percent. Despite this, the issue is only beginning to be addressed in terms of living accommodations for these seniors. Until recently, there was no way to treat a senior living with a mental disorder such as bipolar or schizophrenia while in a senior home or community. The individual was either in a home for people with mental disorders if the issue was severe enough, or was simply not getting the treatment they needed.

Mental Health Care in Assisted Living Communities

While many senior living providers still struggle to meet the needs of individuals with mental health disorders, there have been great strides in improving and expanding the care available to these seniors in most senior care facilities. When senior care providers were faced with the challenge of accommodating a seemingly new problem with senior living facilities, many began to change to better suit what these seniors needed. 

Accommodating Seniors with a Mental Disorder

Many assisted living facilities have begun attempting to meet the needs of seniors with mental health disorders simply by being honest – is the staff prepared to meet the needs of an individual with a mental illness? Is the facility equipped? This typically depends on the severity of the individual’s disorder. For example, if a senior has always suffered from mild to moderate depression, but takes medication, an average facility can probably safely accommodate this senior. If the disorder is more extreme, the facility and staff may have to assess the situation further. If a facility is worried that a particular senior may be a danger to themselves, other tenants or the staff, they may suggest the individual may be a better-fit elsewhere.

Many senior living providers have started holding group therapy sessions with a licensed psychologist, and others even offer one-on-one therapy sessions. Larger senior living facilities may offer onsite psychological care at all times. This is extremely helpful, and in some cases necessary, for individuals that are battling a mental illness.

Another issue within the older generation is late onset mental disorders. Typically, an individual that is battling any sort of mental issue is diagnosed between the age of 20 and 50. With late onset mental issues, a senior doesn’t even develop the disorder until later in life. For these individuals, many senior living facilities have begun to provide regular screening tests for illnesses like depression, anxiety, and more.

No matter how a senior facility chooses to approach the issue of mental illness in seniors, it’s necessary that they do approach it. For example, let’s say a particular facility is home to 200 individuals, and 15 to 20 percent of them are battling a mental disorder. If a facility does not adapt, that means 30 to 40 seniors aren’t getting the care that they need, and that’s unacceptable.

If you or a loved one are moving into an assisted living facility and need special accommodations due to a mental illness, be sure to bring this up at every facility you interview.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What treatments are available for LOBD?

Some of the most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder are lithium carbonate and valproic acid (Depakote). Antidepressants may also be prescribed, however, their usage is not without risk. Again, since the causes of LOBD are still somewhat unknown, there have been debates within the medical community as to which method of treatment is the most effective. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy: This treatment is sometimes used for patients who are severely depressed or manic, and who do not respond well to medications. This can be a quick and efficient way to help people who are at a high risk for attempting suicide. The procedure involves inducing a grand mal seizure lasting less than one minute by the use of electrodes placed on the scalp. 

Although the method lost public credibility following distorted and negative portrayals in 1960’s media coverage, modern procedures have been shown as both safe and effective.

Vagus or Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS): Involves a small device implanted into the vagus nerve in order to mitigate depressive symptoms.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): A small electromagnetic coil treats the symptoms of depression by stimulating nerves in the mood centers of the brain.

Light Therapy: For people suffering from bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, sitting under a special light box capable of emitting full-spectrum light can help to treat depressive symptoms associated with the changes in weather.

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My loved one has been having mood swings and has become irritable and argumentative, what should I do?

It might be time to take your senior to a doctor. Irritability and drastic changes in mood are just a few of the signs of bipolar disorder in the elderly. When looking for signs that your senior may be suffering from bipolar disorder, you must look for the symptoms of the manic and depression phases. This includes periods of euphoria or acting impulsively which will be followed by periods of hopelessness and depression.

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