Mental health in older adults

One thing that many would argue is overlooked in healthcare is the mental health of older adults, even though the issue is a significant one. Nevertheless, there are very few healthcare professionals that specialise in this area, even though it would make sense that treatments and care for this population are specific.

Mental health issues in elderly people may be different from those in younger adults.Photo: © Abeyer | Stock Free Images

Mental health issues in elderly people may be different from those in younger adults.
Photo: © Abeyer | Stock Free Images

This editorial recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine approaches this topic and highlights a report by the Institute of Medicine discussing these issues. The online version also includes a link to listen to an audio interview of one of the authors of the editorial, Dr. Stephen Bartels. Both the editorial and the interview give some compelling reasons as to why we should focus on this population in mental health care. In particular, I agree that research in this area is often lacking just in the way that many studies do not examine younger populations. Often there is scientific justification for using a specific age range in a study. The authors of this editorial suggest that older adults should be included in any study unless there is scientific justification to exclude them. I think that this is the wrong way to go about addressing their issues. Instead, I think it would be better for funding bodies concerned with elderly mental health to create an initiative to give priority funding to research that specifically examines this population. Then we can see if there are differences between this population and a middle-aged one. I suppose that the aim of the authors’ suggestion could have been to make sure that studies have enough power and age range to be able to examine effects by age, just as we do with sex differences (or at least try to do). Either approach would be beneficial for medical research, just as it has been for identifying differences in children and adolescents.

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