Geriatric Mental Health Hospitalizations Can Help Support Longer Independence

“The current growth of the population ages 65 and older is one of the most significant demographic trends in the history of the United States,” according to the Population Reference Bureau. “The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent.”

Unfortunately, older adults have a much greater chance of being admitted to the hospital than any other age group in the US. That is only natural. Senescence or biological aging involves a gradual deterioration of functional characteristics, both physical and mental. That does not mean, however, that senior citizens cannot recover from physical injury or deal with mental health challenges.

In our modern society, aging is frequently associated with sickness, decline, and ultimately death. Often, older Americans get to spend the remaining “golden” years with other older people. Should you require hospitalization, it’s easy for you and your loved ones to fear that it is the beginning of the end. Especially if the reason for the hospitalization is a mental health condition, the time to find “a place for mom” seems to have arrived.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Like other life stages, elderhood should be about “growth and adaptation, maintenance and loss, and not about disease, decline, and death,” explained gerontologist Jennifer Inker in a recent presentation on elderhood as part of the Williamsburg Place Lecture Series. “While part of the aging process is physical decline, it could also be about giving back and mentoring the young.”

And hospitalization should not induce or exacerbate mental health problems. Unfortunately that is what happens frequently in non-geriatric clinics.

“Some patients are admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis not directly leading to functional deterioration (e.g. pneumonia, urinary tract infection), yet they demonstrate a general decline in function after a hospital stay,” explain Hanna Admi et al. in a 2015 study on the effects of hospitalization on older adults. “Recent literature reviews show that functional decline is one of the most common negative outcomes of hospitalization, with far-reaching consequences for the patient, family, and health care system.”

Often, the impact is behavioral, such as severe depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, hallucinations, and delusions. Dementia or mood changes might actually be the reason for the a primary or subsequent hospitalization.

The Pavilion at Williamsburg Place offers a geriatric program that specializes in treating adults ages 55 and over. Common admission diagnoses include dementia, depression, anxiety, mood and behavior changes, and even substance misuse. Medical specialists may be consulted to manage underlying physical illnesses that may be contributing to behavioral, emotional, and cognitive instability.

The Pavilion offers a number of treatment modalities, designed to rehabilitate the patient as much as possible. They include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based treatment that can be a very helpful tool in treating mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorder, and severe mental illness.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a psychotherapy designed to provide patients with new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. In art therapy, patients explore their emotions through painting, drawing, sculpting, and other creative arts.

In recreational therapy, exercise and games can promote positive emotional states and improved cognitive functions. Other activities, such as our karaoke sessions, allow patients to relax and enjoy themselves. Therapy dogs visit our mood disorder unit each week to spend time with patients. Many people find that the presence of a dog can be calming, reducing stress.

Family involvement can make a vast difference in geriatric treatment. Often, family members are the first ones to notice signs of deterioration or dementia. Family members may be involved in the treatment process and can contribute substantially to post-treatment care.

The Pavilion provides resources to help families support their loved ones. Resources include help with legal issues and the decision-making process. We guide family members through the various challenges involved in helping care for older adults.

With the appropriate treatment and the help of a supportive family network patients are more likely to continue leading independent lives after a hospitalization.