India today is sitting on the verge of a major demographic change, that being the greying of its population. It is believed that by 2035 older adults of 65 years of age and above will form a significant 23% percentage of the entire population.
With these major changes in the demographics of the country, the need for a comprehensive geriatric health care plan will increase significantly, which is currently lacking. The incumbent geriatric health care plan needs to be multidimensional i.e., it should provide for the physical health, mental health and also help fight off the social stigma and discrimination around mental illness, that plays a major hurdle towards seeking treatment for mental illnesses.
Some of the major most common mental illnesses encountered by the older adults in India include depression, dementia and mood disorders in general. Some of the other mental disorders encountered by the elderly include anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, alcohol and drug abuse, delirium and psychosis.
Some of the warning signs and symptoms of mental illness are as follows;
India traditionally had joint families and common landholding where respect, reverence and physical care for the elderly was expected from the children. However, over the last few decades due to changes in the social and cultural values, the elderly do not enjoy the same status as in the past and are sadly neglected especially those who are economically unproductive.
Often the health problems of old age people are neglected and attributed to the normal ageing problems of the elderly. Besides that, the changing economic structure and the rapidly changing social structure has affected the traditional care-giving mechanisms for the elderly. This has led to the urgent need for a specialised geriatric health care plan inclusive of mental healthcare for the elderly.
Caring for the elderly requires a comprehensive approach since the needs and problems of the elderly vary significantly depending upon their age, socio-economic status, current health and living status.
This comprehensive care plan for the older adults of our society is only possible with the joint involvement and collaboration of the family, community and the government. The entire social service institutions of the country need to come together to address the social challenges to elderly care for the upliftment of the quality of life of the elderly.
Community care and support programs – An effective community based geriatric services care plan needs to be envisioned with the active participation of all stakeholders. People suffering from mental illness may require psychosocial support to help them live within the community. This support may also involve support to live at home, support with engagement in social activities, self -help and peer support.
An effective community based geriatric services care plan needs to be envisioned with the active participation of all stakeholders. People suffering from mental illness may require psychosocial support to help them live within the community. This support may also involve support to live at home, support with engagement in social activities, self -help and peer support.
Besides, the community if yourself are the carer for an older adult suffering from mental illness, here are a few pointers that can help you in better caring for your loved one without draining yourself out.
Address the mental health problems of the elderly – This is the first and foremost step you as a carer need to accomplish – address the problem. If you think someone close to you has symptoms of mental illness talk to them and encourage them to seek help.
Discuss the diagnosis – If the person you are caring for has been diagnosed with any mental illness, the next step in providing care for the elderly is to discuss the meaning of the diagnosis with the person affected, explain how much care and support they would need and get and underline the fact that is realistic for both of you.
Partner with Doctors – The caregiver must collaborate with the doctor to be able to provide the right kind of care needed by the older adult. You can ask any questions you have regarding the mental health of your loved one, find out general information about the illness from the doctor and discuss varied treatments and medications.
Keep track of the medications – Mental illness is often treated through the help of medications that need to be regularly taken. You as a caregiver need to keep track of the medication being taken by the elderly, take note of any side effects and monitor their moods and behaviour.
Educate yourself – You cannot effectively care for an older adult having mental health problems without knowing the illness afflicting your loved one. There would always be the risk of you terming any of the symptoms and signs as part of the normal old age person problems.
Look after yourself – Being a carer for a person having mental health disorder is a tough job, not to mention emotionally draining. The person you know seems to be gone, they are there and not there at the same time. As such it can be helpful to join a carer support group where you can talk about your experiences with someone who understands. Take a break whenever you can, look after your own needs. Also do keep a check on your psychological symptoms, particularly for depression.
Healthy ageing is a comprehensive issue that requires to be addressed on social, health, psychological and economic fronts. Immediate action needs to be taken on public awareness about mental health problems of older adults. Home-based care needs to be facilitated through formal services in the community. Community health workers need to be trained to identify and provide help to elderlies with mental illness, which in turn would result in better mental health care for older adults.
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