Abandoned Minds: The Escalating Crisis of Geriatric Mental Illness

Older adults are susceptible to the same mental afflictions that affect other age groups; depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and other illnesses affect all adult age groups to varying degrees. Yet despite recent improvements in the research attention given to mental disorders and reductions in the stigma against such illnesses in younger age groups, the elderly remain a vastly underserved segment of the population in both mental health research and care. They are not underrepresented in numbers, however: the National Institutes of Health place the population of adults 65 and older “on the threshold of a boom,” predicting that the age group will include 72 million individuals by the year 2030 and comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population. The trend is expected to begin in earnest when the first Baby Boomers turn 65 just five years from now, in 2011. Yet despite these numbers and the population’s high risk of mental illness – the elderly are more prone to mental illness than any other age group — the U.S. health system remains grossly unprepared for the mental health needs of the elderly population. Its major problems include a shortage of caregivers, a notable lack of successful treatment methods, a dearth of research on the aspects of mental illness specific to the elderly, and a lack of funding to facilitate such research. With less than five years left before the first wave of this massive population growth begins, experts unequivocally agree that the nation is already in a crisis. This thesis documents the medical, social, and political challenges facing patients, researchers, advocates, clinicians and caregivers in the coming decades — and today.



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