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Mental Health Treatment Among Elderly

In an effort to generate improvement in the treatment of mental health among the elderly, the Institute for Applied Gerontology will conduct a one-year study of a new screening tool designed to help primary care providers identify and diagnose mental health disorders within this population. Beginning this spring, the Institute will utilize a grant of $120,000 from the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation to systematically examine mental health care in Elderplan, a social HMO for seniors, and at the Ulster County-based Mid-Hudson Family Practice Institute, which treats both fee-for-service and managed care patients.

According to those initiating the study, there is significant concern based on analyses of primary care settings that physicians are not presently equipped to detect underlying emotional and mental difficulties when treating senior citizens. "When older adults visit their regular doctor," explains Corinne Kay Kyriacou, PhD, Director of Research, Institute for Applied Gerontology, and Principal Investigator, "they may often be uncomfortable about articulating their emotional distress, or they may not be aware that their physical discomfort is due to the development of an emotional difficulty.

Moreover, physicians may not have the requisite amount of time to spend with their elderly patients to allow them to discover the existence of an emotional problem." Kyriacou notes that, because untreated mental disorders can engender physical illness, the unfortunate results include greater anguish to the patient and increased financial burdens on the health care system.

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