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Older adults: A forgotten generation in behavioral healthcare

Time is the most important gift families and friends can give older loved ones.

A glance at entertainment and advertising reveals a cultural emphasis on youth. The same is true of behavioral health, which tends to focus prevention and treatment on younger generations, with limited efforts to reach individuals over age 65.

This lack of awareness and conversation can add to the stress of aging, which already features biological changes as well as grief and loss that make older adults more susceptible to behavioral health concerns.

“Older adults have been a marginalized population forever, and yet they have so much to offer,” said Brenda Iliff Rosecrance Jackson Centers Vice President of Clinical Services. “Just think of all the life change that normally happens as we age, then add the fear and isolation from the past couple years, and you have a population that really is at risk.”

Time is the most important gift families and friends can give older loved ones. These connections can produce lasting memories and help overcome loneliness or isolation. No matter how these check-ins happen, they will be valuable. In addition, they provide a snapshot into an individual’s life, with opportunities to sense if there may be behavioral health or other medical concerns.

During those conversations, families are encouraged to watch for signs of substance use, such as slurred words and shakiness. While these may also be symptoms of a medical issue, these indicators can be starting points for dialogue.

If families want to ask a loved one about potential substance use, Iliff recommends that conversations emphasize medical facts. To lovingly encourage an individual to seek help, loved ones should talk about how substance use can impact the things that matter—a career, family, relationships, etc.

When older adults recognize a need to change, their life experiences often provide healthy coping skills and resiliency.

“The neat thing about this group is that they embrace recovery because they realize, ‘Oh, my gosh, that wasn’t me. I really need to change,’” Iliff said. “When recovery happens, the world opens up. Older adults lose their shame and recover integrity, and the next thing you know, they are connected and energized to live their best life.”

Older adults who seek treatment often flourish best in a program that values each person as an individual. Rosecrance’s evidence-based treatment program is built around the needs and goals of each individual with a holistic perspective on recovery. This sharpens clients’ skills to return to living the life they wanted.


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