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Nicole Cadovius

Director of Practice Improvement

Addressing the Service Needs of Older Adults

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In a little more than a month, we will be celebrating Older Americans Month in May. This is an opportunity to reflect on the implications of this population’s projected growth and its effect on society. Developing an understanding of these trends is one way to help shift services to address the growing service needs of the older adult community.

Dr. Rajesh R. Tampi, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Cleveland Clinic, led the Older Adult Interest Group forum this month, where he focused on current trends and support needs. In the forum, he highlighted provider challenges, such as projected workforce shortages of geriatricians and other declining numbers of specialists needed to help support this population.

As Dr. Tampi noted, the health care workforce is too small and critically unprepared to meet the health needs of older Americans. Simply put, the percent increase of geriatric psychiatrists has not kept up with the percent increase in the older population. The current shortage of psychiatrists is estimated to be 2,753, and it is projected to be 6,090 in 2025.

Substance use or misuse is also a growing concern for this population, especially as Boomers age. What is the impact of alcohol and other substances? Alcohol consumption is linked to more than 60 acute and chronic diseases. It is even more effective for older adults.

The prevalence of marijuana use among older adults increased from 1.6% to 5.9%, and four out of five alcohol users (aged 65+) are prescribed medications that could interact negatively. When coexisting medical conditions are factored in, 53.3% of alcohol users (aged 65+) have potentially harmful levels of consumption. Learn more.

Older adults grew up in a time when having an addiction or mental illness was highly associated with stigma, and when people didn’t talk about their concerns outside of the family. Older adults may feel alone and may not ask for help.

As we tackle COVID-19, social distancing for this population may cause even further isolation and/or loneliness. As providers, we may want to explore new avenues of outreach – such as telephonically – to help older adults feel connected. Most  vulnerable older adults will not reach out for help, so now is the time to do what we can to connect with individuals who may be more at risk for depression, anxiety and loneliness.

Join us next month as we continue the conversation on substance use in older adults and invite the Intellectual and Developmental Disability Interest group to explore the impact of substance use on their aging population.

Eager to learn more about our Interest Group initiative? Want to join our Group? Contact Nicole Cadovius, the Group lead and director of the Geriatric Technical Assistance Center.