Helping older people get the mental care they need

A PAST trustee of Rugby Mind has warned that many older people are struggling to live with mental health conditions because of problems with diagnosis.

Because many conditions like dyslexia, ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and depression were not formally recognised until recently, large swaths of older people may be struggling with their lives unaware they have anything wrong with them. As many as ten per cent of adults may have dyslexia, five per cent dyspraxia, seven per cent ADHD and 2.5 per cent OCD. It’s thought that as many as 40 per cent of people in care homes suffer from depression.

Martin Eversfield, a former borough councillor and trustee of Rugby Mind, who has friends and relatives with mental health issues, said he has known of older people who have been misdiagnosed by GPs.

“There seems to be a gaping hole in the NHS in Warwickshire, particularly among older people with neuro diverse conditions. It’s often difficult to diagnose these conditions because often specialist psychologist advice is needed. Currently there is nowhere in Warwickshire that deals with dyspraxia, for example, so to see a specialist, people sometimes have to travel hundreds of miles.

“What this all means is that people’s quality of life can be massively affected.”

Mr Eversfield said that while schools, colleges and workplaces could be expected to be on the lookout for people showing signs of ‘neuro diversity’, those of retirement age and over had to rely on GPs, friends or carers to recognise that they might have a problem.

“This is a big issue which must be affecting the quality of life of thousands of older people in Warwickshire. Unless people get the right diagnosis and the right help they don’t stand a chance.

“Many older people would have gone through their entire lives not knowing why they can’t do certain things as well as their friends and to find out why can be a big relief, and make their lives easier to manage.

He said: “I have heard of some cases when people with mental health issues have been misdiagnosed with depression - but treating something with the wrong drugs is a waste of time and money.”

Steven Hill, director at Coventry and Warwickshire Mind, said that stigma attached to mental health was also an obstacle for the elderly.

“While we work with school children and teachers to try and dispel negativity surrounding mental health issues, older people may still see it as something to be ashamed of,” he said.

“People often say they know an older relative who may have depression or other mental health issue, but the problem lies in persuading them to open up about it, or go and see their GP.

“Many still associate mental health problems with the old asylum system and other negative, shameful or frightening ideas.

“We can’t expect GPs to know everything and diagnosing specific mental health problems can take a long time.”

He added: “What we’re trying to do is de-stigmatize the label that people associate with mental health so people realise that it is just as normal as having a physical ailment, such as a cold or flu.”

Mr Hill added: “The good news is that there is lots of support out there – not always via a GP.

“The problem is people may not realise it exists of benefit from it.”

To contact Coventry and Warwickshire Mind for advice on this issue, see, cwmind.org.uk. Age UK in Rugby also offer advice for older people affected with mental illness. They can be contacted on (01788) 552540.