Welcome Wisdom

Aging & Mental Health: The Benefit of Care Management

by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, ECM Director of Care Management

Depression is not a normal part of aging but approximately 15% of adults over the age of 65 report symptoms of depression that are clinically significant, in other words, symptoms that are disruptive to their everyday functioning. In our work as care managers, we see older adults encountering physical illness, caregiver stress, grief, loss, and family tension. While most will navigate through these challenges, any of them, especially over a protracted length of time, can result in depression that requires some kind of intervention for the affected person to resume well-being. When a care manager recognizes signs of depression in a client, efforts are made to encourage a medical evaluation, and other supportive measures are explored, including increased social support to reduce isolation, and activities that will restore a sense of purpose.

Continuing with our series on The Challenges of Aging, this month’s topic of mental health dovetails with our previous discussion about the impact of engagement and purpose on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Health and Disability is one of the eight knowledge areas of expertise for Aging Life Care Professionals and represents a significant part of the work we do with older adults and their families. Aging Life Care Professionals serve older adults who are dealing with mental health challenges, either acute or chronic. We also serve clients living with a mental health diagnosis and dementia. In each situation, other challenges of aging compound and add to the complexity of the mental health issue experienced by the individual. The holistic perspective of an Aging Life Care Professional can help identify an older adult who may be at risk and advocate for appropriate support.

Aging Life Care Professionals also provide support for clients who have a long history of mental health diagnoses and are experiencing the compounding effects of aging. It isn’t unusual for an individual with a mental health challenge to move through life without an official diagnosis and/or treatment for the disorder. The changes and challenges that come with aging can bring attention to the individual’s struggle and need for assistance. The families of older adults with a history of mental health issues can also benefit from additional support, as they navigate and develop a plan for their loved one’s care. We also encounter those who have a mental health diagnosis and then develop dementia, adding another critical consideration when planning for care.

As advocates for our clients, Aging Life Care Professionals interact frequently with the health care system. While it is not our role to diagnose or treat mental health disorders, it is our role to work directly with the client, family, physician, and other health providers, as well as anyone involved in providing support to the client. Hesitant to discuss their feelings, some older adults may not talk to their physician and the encouragement of a care manager can help raise awareness and acceptance of help. Because of our holistic approach, Aging Life Care Professionals are also attuned to non-pharmaceutical approaches that may bring relief to clients who are struggling with mental health challenges. Whether dealing with depression brought on by stress, or grappling with a mental health history now compounded by aging, older adults and their families can benefit from the support of an Aging Life Care Professional.