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Aging Unbound & Mental Health Diagnoses for Older Americans

Man pushing a very happy elderly woman in a wheelchair through a park

Aging Unbound & Mental Health Diagnoses for Older Americans

May is Older Americans Month and this year’s theme is “Aging Unbound,” which offers an opportunity to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat stereotypes older Americans face.

In an effort to explore this topic further, we asked our team at the Rhode Island State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program to share their own interpretations of what “Aging Unbound” means to them.

Aging Unbound Means…

“Aging without limitations – getting the most out of every day.” – Charline Scanlon, Ombudsman

“Anything is possible regardless of your age.” – Donna Lonschein, Clinical Director

“Exploring and embracing the rewards of growing older on your own terms.” – Lori Light, Ombudsman

“Liberation of the mind, bringing with it the freedom to be the person you want to be.” – Allison Raine, Ombudsman

“Age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying you.” – Renee Miller, Ombudsman

“Seniors today are vocal and not afraid to let their beliefs be heard.” – Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island State Long-Term Care Ombudsman

As you can see, there are many interpretations of this theme! If you have your own, we welcome you to join in on the conversation by commenting or sending us a message on Facebook. Having open conversations about this topic helps raise awareness about aging and combatting stereotypes older Americans face.

Mental Health Diagnoses for Older Americans

In addition to being Older Americans Month, May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. One issue seniors face is the issue of being misdiagnosed with a mental health disease.

When misdiagnoses occur, elders are placed on psychotropic medication that they don’t really need. Fortunately, the federal government (CMS) recognized this dangerous practice and now enforces stricter guidelines for making such diagnoses.

As people age they start to experience life changes that affect their mental health. A certain illness or losing a spouse may result in developing isolation, grief, and depression. Effective treatment options are available to elders that are an alternative to prescribing them medication.

More than 34 million U.S. adults suffer from some sort of depression. This only increased after the world was struck by the Covid-19 pandemic. Younger people who were not allowed to socialize or go to places like school, church, or just out with their friends showed signs of mental illness – never mind what the elderly have been through.

Physical changes to the brain in the aging process can also cause behavioral changes. The World Health Organization has found that elders with heart disease also suffer from depression, hearing, and vision impairments which can lead to social isolation because the elder is ashamed. Individuals who have not had much contact with others during their lives can develop these changes at a faster rate.

There are ways to treat mental illness in older adults and it does not always come out of a bottle. I remember an old saying my nursing instructor told us when we would label a patient with a mental health diagnosis, it goes like this: A Yorkshire man once said to his friend, everyone in the world is crazy except for me and you, and sometimes I have my doubts about you.

Be an advocate for your family member. Rule out other causes before medication is ordered. This will help ensure they receive proper treatment. If you are in need of assistance, our Ombudsmen are here to help.

– Kathleen Heren
RI State Long-Term Care Ombudsman

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