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Poll: Seniors' mental health may not be adequately addressed

December 17, 2012

Mental well-being plays a key role in healthy aging, but a new study suggests many seniors are not getting the attention they need. A recently conducted national poll found that many older adults with depression are either not being diagnosed or given ineffective treatment.

The findings, which were released by the John A. Hartford Foundation, were based on interviews with more than 1,300 adults 65 and older. Among the most telling results was that 46 percent of seniors receiving treatment said their care provider did not follow up with them, which is often seen as an important part of treating mental health issues.

The poll also revealed some troubling statistics when it came to seniors recognizing the threat of depression. For instance, only 21 percent of respondents were aware that depression increases the risk of dementia, and about 34 percent knew that it doubles the risk of heart disease.

"Treating depression and other mental health conditions can be very successful but it is not easy. The first drug, the first treatment, or a single treatment often doesn't work," said Christopher Langston of the John A. Hartford Foundation. "We know that a structured team approach, which includes educating and engaging patients in their own care - following up carefully on response to treatment; and modifying treatment plans if they aren't working, is very effective."

The results are particularly important given that depression is common in the senior population. Experts estimate that as many as one in five seniors are impacted by a mental health condition, and around 5 million seniors suffer from subsyndromal depression, a variety that falls just below the clinical diagnosis.