Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Caring for Today's Elderly-And Preparing for Tomorrow's: CMHCs Are Employing a Variety of Approaches to Meet Seniors' Diverse Needs

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Caring for Today's Elderly-And Preparing for Tomorrow's: CMHCs Are Employing a Variety of Approaches to Meet Seniors' Diverse Needs

Article excerpt

We all know about the oncoming wave of aging baby boomers--and that they will pose many challenges for community-based mental healthcare providers. But taking care of today's seniors is difficult enough. Older facilities often were not designed with aged bodies in mind. Programs have to be developed, revised, and updated to meet the unique and changing needs of seniors with behavioral health issues. And finding staff with expertise in geriatric care is no easy task.

These and many other issues are facing community-based mental healthcare providers as they care for today's elderly--and prepare for tomorrow's. Below are profiles of how three organizations are handling particular aspects of eldercare (although it's important to note that each has a broad elderly services program).

A Diverse Array of Services

Senior services is an exciting area with lots of room for innovation, as evidenced by the Masters Program, a partial hospitalization and outpatient program at Valley Mental Health (Salt Lake City) for seniors with behavioral health issues (and possibly dementia). In addition to standard group psychotherapy approaches for patients with mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders, the Masters Program has several intriguing programs to improve patients' quality of life, explains Program Manager Natalie Thornley, LCSW. In fact, the Masters Program has been recognized by SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services for exemplary practices in providing mental health services for older adults.

Partnerships are an important part of the Masters Program's success. "We look to and involve ourselves with partners to meet the myriad of needs that an older adult might have that directly or indirectly impact their mental health," says Amanda Lambert, the Masters Program's community relations liaison. For example, the program has teamed up with Boston University researchers to help seniors with hoarding behaviors. Case managers, using cognitive-behavioral techniques, actually assist clients with cleaning out their homes, says Thornley.

Other clients benefit from the Masters Program's Cyber Cafe, a computer lab with related programming designed to enhance seniors' connectivity and stimulate their minds. Seniors who attend one of the programs are eligible for a refurbished computer for $30--free if they have perfect attendance--through a program in partnership with the state. Older veterans, from a generation with considerable stigma toward mental illness, are able to release long-held feelings in a group designed especially for them, in coordination with the VA.

The Masters Program also nurtures partnerships with outside physicians. Thornley notes that most programs keep their psychiatric care in-house, but the Masters Program has a doctor and a geriatric nurse practitioner who coordinate behavioral healthcare with clients' primary care physicians, allowing outside physicians to remain in control of clients' medical care.

The Masters Program soon will be tackling a commonly misunderstood--and underrecognized--population: geriatric sex offenders. Thornley notes that the Masters Program was the first in Utah to receive the go-ahead to provide services for newly released sex offenders over age 60. In addition to mental healthcare, patients will receive counseling on end-of-life issues, grandchildren concerns, and other topics that aren't part of standard sex offender services designed for younger adults. Valley Mental Health will even electronically monitor some patients' whereabouts.

Designing With Seniors in Mind

When Life Works NW decided to move its older adult services into a different building in 2004, staff were presented with a blank canvas--an empty building in Beaverton, Oregon, that they could design as they saw fit. Life Works decided to take advantage of this opportunity and create a facility tailored to the unique needs of elderly clientele with chronic mental illnesses and/or Alzheimer's disease. …

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