Two senators introduced today The Positive Aging Act of 2013, bipartisan legislation designed to increase awareness of and access to senior mental health services. Bills with similar names have been circulating through Congress for several years, but recent population stats and growing numbers of mental health diagnoses within senior care may prompt more Congressional action in the future.
National Institutes of Health studies note that nearly one in five older Americans has at least one mental health condition. Depression is the leading mental health issue among people over 65. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, white males age 85+ have the highest suicide rates in the nation.
Yet seniors with depression are often untreated, for a range of reasons. In some cases, the condition is overlooked by caregivers and doctors. But more often, the seniors themselves hesitate to tell their caregivers how they are feeling. “Many people don’t understand mental illness or even acknowledge its existence. Some seniors are ashamed or frightened by their symptoms or believe that they are an inevitable part of aging,” notes the American Psychiatric Association website.
Dementia (including Alzheimer’s Disease) is another category of mental health that is impacting more seniors every day. Researchers say national dementia-care costs are surging and could exceed $380 billion by 2040. One in three seniors will die from dementia.
The current bill, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), has gained the support of multiple mental health organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry and the American Geriatrics Society.