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Natchaug's Older Adult Program: Physical, Psychological, Social Functioning Evaluation

July 26, 2021

By Carrie Pichie, PhD Regional Director of Ambulatory Services, East Region Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network
Health experts have seen a significant increase in mental health referrals over the past few months, likely due to the stress and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase has been seen across all age groups, but not much attention has been given to older adults or those over 60. These individuals are especially feeling the effects of social isolation caused by the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, older adults were advised to remain home as much as possible, because advanced age is a risk factor for more severe cases of COVID-19. Across social media and news outlets, we saw images of grandparents meeting grandchildren for the first time through windows, and family gatherings or major lifetime events occurring on Zoom. The profound impact of isolation on the mental health of older adults is not new. In fact, because mental health and physical problems are so closely related, older adults are especially vulnerable as physical and functional challenges are a natural part of aging. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, are also risk factors for depression and anxiety. Life circumstances such as loss of a spouse, financial stressors and even retirement can impact the mental health of older adults. Although retirement is traditionally seen as a cause for celebration, the loss of a daily routine and the rewarding nature of success at work can have a negative impact psychologically. The daily social interaction that work provides also is lost. Many older adults are left feeling lonely and isolated. Behavioral health treatment can help older adults prevent more serious problems such as substance use and suicide. Untreated depression is reflected in the high suicide rate among the old. Although depression and anxiety are two times as prevalent in older women, older men are more likely to attempt or die by suicide, according to the American Psychiatric Association. While using substances such as alcohol or other illicit drugs tends to decrease with age, it can have a greater impact when used by an older adult due to age-related changes that slow the metabolism. This can lead to more dangerous outcomes. The problem, however, is that most older adults never seek treatment. Barriers such as finances, transportation and a lack of understanding about how to access care are common. Also, older adults are more likely to view the need for treatment as a weakness. Natchaug Hospital offers an Older Adult Program at Windham Hospital. If there is a concern that an older adult is suffering, reaching out for an evaluation is recommended. This is not a commitment to a certain form of treatment but an opportunity for a thorough assessment of the individual’s physical, psychological and social functioning as well as potential needs. There may be needs related to the person’s environment, financial status or other social factors that can be addressed. From this evaluation, treatment recommendations will be offered. Natchaug Hospital offers mental health and addiction treatment for children, adolescents and adults through a network of community-based programs in Danielson, Dayville, Enfield, Groton, Mansfield, Norwich, Old Saybrook, Vernon and Willimantic. For more information, click here or call 860.456.1311.