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Supporting Patients with Mental Illness

Understanding mental illness in your senior residents

Understanding mental illness in your senior residents

Long-term care professionals cannot ignore the fact that mental illness is a serious problem affecting senior residents in facilities across the nation. A 2009 Department of Health and Human Services Nursing Home Data Compendium report revealed that at least 3.2 million residents suffer from mental illness, though the precise number varies based on numerous factors. Recent research indicates that depression and anxiety disorders, in addition to dementia, are the most common disorders found in long-term care.

A 2012 published study titled "Mental Illness Training for Licensed Staff in Long-Term Care," explained that depression may affect as many as 17 to 30 percent of all long-term care residents, with many more that go unreported or misdiagnosed. While a persistent, widespread dilemma, the report found that a large majority of care providers are inadequately trained in mental illness.

"At least 3.2 million residents suffer from mental illness."

Why is it important to support and understand residents with mental illness?
While caring for a resident who suffers from depression or another mental illness can be rewarding, it can be equally difficult as well. As the long-term care industry is seeing a drastic rise in the number of residents diagnosed with a mental illness, it is more imperative than ever for professionals to educate and prepare themselves to properly care for these individuals. This is because, while the number of residents with mental illnesses rises, the amount of support and treatment they receive is still very low in comparison, according to Caring.com.

Some of your residents may yet be undiagnosed with a mental illness. Have you noticed one of your residents gradually withdrawing his involvement from your events, even though he previously was active? Perhaps another resident is suffering from paranoia and anxiety and is afraid to sleep in her room. Whatever the situation, long-term care providers must be proactive about supporting these residents and providing the help they deserve and desperately need.

How can you support your residents suffering with mental illness? 
The Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly published a helpful guidebook called "Tips and Techniques for Supporting Residents with Mental Illness: A Guide for Staff in Housing for Older Adults" in 2012 as a way to help those who work with residents with mental illness. One of the essential pieces of advice the report recommends is for care providers to hone their basic assessment skills.

These skills include assessing, on a regular basis, your residents' appearances, speech, physical movements, moods, cognitive abilities and more.

"You should suggest they seek medical treatment and therapy."

The guidebook also has specific recommendations for how care providers should interact with residents with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. For your residents who may be depressed, offer your encouragement and check in on them periodically, offering your support. 

Meanwhile, while being anxious is a part of life, your residents suffering with an anxiety disorder may experience panic attacks, frequent feelings of dread and more. Their fears may even keep them from interacting with others and completing everyday activities. Once again, for your residents who may be depressed, offer your encouragement and check in on them periodically, offering your support.

To learn more about providing quality care for your residents or mental illness in the elderly, take one of Mariposa Training's long-term care courses, such as "Understanding Mental Illness" today!

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