Mental health of the elderly growing issue

People are living longer but more needs to be done to avoid future mental health problems being faced by ageing baby-boomers.

Dr Jane Casey made that point at a Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists conference at the Otago Museum, Dunedin, yesterday.

Dr Casey is a Dunedin-born, old-age psychiatrist at the Auckland City Hospital and chairs the college's Faculty of Psychiatry of Old Age.

In a talk at the conference, she noted people were living longer, but were experiencing more mental illnesses than 50 years ago. And old-age services were struggling to meet the needs in mental health care after 65.

''People are living longer because of a focus on early intervention and prevention.

''There has been an increase in happiness, mental wellbeing and interpersonal relationships occurring after age 50, even as physical health and cognitive function decline,'' she said.

 ''Even though life gets better for many as you get older, compared to the cohort 50 years ago, mental health issues are getting more prevalent,'' she said.

In recent years, Mental Health had made ''inroads into strategies for youth intervention in depression, psychosis and suicide''.

''But the recognition of these problems in older people and strategies to address mental health issues in our middle-aged population are lacking,'' she said.

''With the ageing baby-boomers there is a need for a broad preventitive approach to try and reduce the incidence of illness in mid and later life.''

A more planned approach, involving more resources and earlier intervention, was needed, given ''already stretched health resources'', she said.

''Raising awareness is critical.''

Relatives, friends, and fellow citizens could help people experiencing isolation and depression by being ''kindly, caring and empathetic''.

Public health advice which aimed to maintain good physical health, such as maintaining physical exercise and healthy eating, also had benefits for mental health, she said.

About 200 people are attending the three-day conference, which ends tomorrow.

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