Older people’s mental health needs remain unmet

Age UK report highlights that older people are less likely than younger age groups to receive talking therapies despite introduction of IAPTs

Published on 20th October 2016

Substantial gaps remain in services for older people with mental health problems, Age UK has warned.

Despite a quarter of older people living in the community are estimated to have symptoms of depression that may require intervention, the charity warns that older people with common mental health conditions ae much less likely to receive talking therapies compared to younger age groups.

People over 75 were six times more likely to be on tranquilisers or similar drug therapies, the charity warned.

In 2008, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme was launched in a bid to increase the number of people accessing talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for conditions like anxiety and depression. In 2011 the Department of Health set a target of 12% of referrals through the IAPT programme being people aged 65 and over.

However, Age UK’s report ‘Hidden in plain sight: The unmet mental health needs of older people’ highlights that five years on and the target is still not close to being met with national reporting showing it is currently at 6.1%.

In fact, the charity warns it will take 15 years for the 12% referral rate to be met at the current rate of growth in the proportion of older people being referred through IAPT.

“This lack of urgency is reinforced by the findings of a survey of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which revealed that only three had set specific targets around increasing the proportion of older people accessing IAPT,” said the report.

It warns that older people are also waiting slightly longer for mental health treatment, particularly in old age psychiatry where waiting times have increased over the past five years from an average of 22 days in 2011/12 to 26 days in 2015/16.

The report highlights that:

  • Many older people live with both physical and mental health conditions.

  • Yet almost 40% of mental health trusts do not have a specific policy or strategy for supporting comorbidities.

  • Often, physical and mental health needs are inter-related and failing to address them together can severely undermine an older person’s ability to recover from an illness or deterioration in their health.

  • In addition, figures for older people detained in police stations and hospitals under the Mental Health Act suggest that mental health crisis care is not always adequately dealing with their needs.

“It is hugely worrying that older people continue to face attitudes that low mood and depression are just a part of ageing,” said Caroline Abraham, director of Age UK. “This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“If as a society we want to make the best of our longer years then we must urgently shift such perceptions around mental health and ageing,” she added.

Age UK recommends:

  • Implementation of Mental Health Taskforce recommendations should include a work stream dedicated to meeting older people’s mental health needs. This should include ensuring wide use of the new CQUIN for depression in older patients.
  • Local health and care commissioners should fully understand the prevalence of common mental health conditions among the over 65s in their areas.
  • Each clinical commissioning group and local authority should consider appointing “older people’s mental health champions”.
  • All services should be appropriately funded and equipped to deliver fully integrated care that addresses mental and physical health and comorbidity.

“These are some of the steps we believe will help improve the mental health care of older people. For society in general, we must ensure the wider efforts to challenge some of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health do not leave older people behind,” said the report.

“Though many of us will face physical, social and emotional challenges as we enter later life, we should not lose the expectation of the best possible mental wellbeing, whatever our age,” the report concluded.

Hidden in plain sight: The unmet mental health needs of older people.




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