Field of Geriatric Psychiatry Offers Specialized Care

Article excerpt

Byline: Cass Cliatt Daily Herald Correspondent

Helping people deal with the big questions of death and loss of identity, when those concerns are complicated by depression, requires a certain expertise, doctors say.

That specialized knowledge can come from a geriatric psychiatrist.

Among the newest fields of medical science, geriatric psychiatry involves working with families, primary care physicians, senior center workers, adult day care providers and others to improve the mental health of older adults.

The American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry has only recognized geriatric psychiatry in the last 10 years, said Dr. Geoffrey Shaw, a member of the board and a geriatric psychiatrist at Advocate Lutheran General in Park Ridge.

"What's happening is the population is getting older, and people are also recognizing depression as a true medical illness," Shaw said.

Geriatric psychiatry units and training programs have emerged at Northwestern University, Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago and other hospitals throughout Illinois and across the country.

Hospitals say their goal is to focus on the unique approaches required to help seniors.

Doctors say they're using different therapy methods for a group whose mental illnesses are complicated by social stigma, physical ailments, medical misdiagnoses and years of history.

"There comes a point with many of these people that they've had more stress, more change than they can deal with," said Dr. Sandra Swantek, medical director of the Older Adult Behavioral Unit at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Swantek also is a member of the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry and wrote the "Depression in Late Life" brochure distributed at hospitals to let seniors know that depression is not something to be accepted as simply a part of aging.

"The reason we need a specialty is because there is a body of information that applies to older people that doesn't apply to younger people," Swantek said.

Many of today's seniors lived through World War II, the Great Depression and the Korean War.

They've seen their retirement savings balloon exponentially and then deflate to abysmal depths.

They've buried their parents, seen their siblings die, watched their children move away - and coped with it all. They're not likely to complain when loss of mobility and loss of independence compounds it all and plunges them into depression. …