It happens all too often: an older adult goes into the hospital and starts behaving strangely—hallucinating, rambling, showing signs of agitation, or becoming disoriented. He or she may not even recognize loved ones. What’s the diagnosis according to far too many health care providers? Dementia. And this despite the fact that dementia always has a gradual, not sudden, onset.
It happened to Nora OBrien-Suric’s father and Chris Langston’s uncle. It also happened to Roberto, whom we feature in our 2011 Hartford Foundation Annual Report. All of them had delirium, a reversible condition that can affect older adults after surgery or an illness.
What’s the solution? We need to educate health care providers as well as older adults and their loved ones about delirium and other mental health issues. The solution lies in astute practitioners like Pamela Cacchione, PhD, RN, BC, and her nursing student, Ashley King, MSN, RN, who had the skills and clinical training to assess and address Roberto’s delirium in order to restore his quality of life.
Hot off the press is the web version of our most recent annual report focused on older adults and mental health—a topic near and dear to many of us at the Foundation.
In May 2002, my friend Tucker killed himself. Alone in his apartment, he used a gun to commit suicide. What haunts me (and many of his friends) to this day is that we had no idea that he was depressed. None. For years, Tucker apparently put on a brave face and silently suffered.
Such is the case with many older adults. Of the 40 million Americans over the age of 65, about 7.5 million have a mental health disorder and this number will grow as more of our population ages. Many older adults with mental illness suffer needlessly as they may have not been diagnosed, receive inadequate care, or worse—get no care at all. This despite the fact that adults over the age of 65 have a disproportionally higher rate of suicide than other age groups, with white males 85 and older having the highest.
For the past few months, we have been blogging on the pioneering nurse leaders featured in our photo-driven “Day in the Life of an Academic Geriatric Nurse” annual report honoring the 10th anniversary of our Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Capacity (BAGNC) Initiative.
We have done so for a few reasons: because we are proud of these BAGNC nurses and because quite frankly, the annual report rocks. It does so because of the amazing photos and the clear, compelling text. Both tell our nursing stories in a creative format to educate, inform, and inspire others.
I can shamelessly brag about the report (along with my annual report colleagues, Marcus Escobedo and Frank Doll) because we had the fun role of “managing” and “overseeing” the process. The people that did the heavy lifting were writer Lynne Christensen, photographer/designer Don Battershall, and photographer Will Mebane.
On the Martin Luther King Holiday, I think it is only right to think about ageism, which, along with racism and sexism, is a fundamental barrier to achieving the more just and equitable society that we desire. Coincidentally, over the weekend, I had an opportunity to hear from Bill Thomas, MD, the developer of the Eden Alternative and The Greenhouse model of long-term care. (And author of the Changing Aging Blog featured on our blog roll.)
Dr. Thomas had come to address our leadership retreat of directors of academic geriatric programs, where each year we bring someone who has shown unusual leadership in aging to stimulate attendees to think about their own unique contributions (in the terms of our recent annual report–to think about how they will “answer the call to leadership”). As a provocative speaker he did not disappoint.
He argued that our society is suffering from malignant, metastatic adulthood. He posited that both children and older adults are inappropriately pressured to conform to the highly agentic, doing-oriented model of adulthood valued by our society, rather than the more “being-oriented” state truly appropriate for their life stages. He argued that older adults find themselves valued (and value themselves) to the extent that they “STILL” can do all the things of earlier adulthood–leading to the ludicrously one-sided portrayals of older people busier than ever barefoot water-skiing and globetrotting–and foreclosing the existence of an authentic “elderhood.”