With the rapid growth of the aging population, there will be an unprecedented demand on the system’s current capacity to address seniors’ mental health needs. Depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s, delusional disorders and delirium are the most common mental illnesses among senior Canadians. The incidence of mental disorders in seniors in long-term care settings and nursing homes is much higher than in the general population.
The incidence of suicide among men 80 years of age or older is the highest of all age groups. Seniors with mental illness and addiction are a particularly vulnerable segment of the population with unique health needs. Many seniors mistakenly believe that mental health problems, such as depression or cognitive impairment, are part of the normal aging process and that no effective treatments are available. As well, mental illnesses in seniors may be confused or masked by other co-morbidity and concurrent disorders that can make accurate diagnosis and treatment of mental illness particularly difficult
There is a strong need for more health care providers who are specialized in the care of seniors with mental health disorders, including those who reside in institutional settings. Current service delivery models do not meet the complex and ever changing mental health needs of seniors. There is a pressing need for best practice guidelines in managing multiple mental illnesses and physical problems in aging Canadians. Family caregivers also need a coordinated range of supports in order to help senior family members with mental disorders and to meet their own needs as the caregiver. The economic value of those support services is enormous.