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Caring for Aging Population Textbook to be Used Nationwide

Nursing Chair Answers Questions on Mental Health Among Elderly

Chair of the Nursing Department Karen Devereaux Melillo and Assoc. Dean of SHE Susan Crocker Houde co-edited a textbook that reflects the latest science of caring for older adults with psychiatric and mental health issues.

By Karen Angelo

Colleges throughout the country will be using a one-of-a-kind textbook that combines the study of aging with that of psychiatric mental health to teach nursing students and professionals the best ways to identify and care for the growing number of older adults with mental health issues.

Chair of the Nursing Department Karen Devereaux Melillo and Assoc. Dean of the School of Health and Environment Susan Crocker Houde co-authored and edited the second edition of “Geropsychiatric and Mental Health Nursing.” Many UMass Lowell nursing faculty and graduates authored chapters on topics such as sleep disorders, family caregiving, problem behaviors and nursing interventions in dementia care.

We asked Melillo to answer some questions about caring for the mental health of an aging population in the United States.

Why should we be concerned about the mental health of an aging population?
It’s a big issue due to the aging baby boomer generation and the fact that we are living longer. Today, 13 percent of the population is 65 years old or older. By 2030, that number will grow to 20 percent. Disability due to mental illness in that age group is expected to become a major public heath problem.

What are some of the common mental health problems of older adults?
In late life, people can experience depressive disorders, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, delirium, dementias and sleep disorders as well as mistreatment. Old age comes with sad events such as loss of friends and loved ones. Nurses are on the frontlines. They are the ones with the knowledge and education who can identify issues and intervene.

Why are older people not getting the care they need for some of these problems?
One barrier is when both families and clinicians dismiss symptoms as being a normal part of aging. This leads to a diminished way of life for millions of people, which is often unnecessary. For example, memory loss, difficulty sleeping and lack of appetite could all be signs of depression and therefore treated.

Why should all nurses study how to care for the mental health of older adults?
Many people with mental health problems can be treated, but only about one-third receive care. As the number and proportion of the population aged 65 years and older continues to grow, the need for nurses who can recognize and assess mental health problems will also grow. This is why this book is so important. Nurses in all types of settings ߝ nursing homes, assisted living facilities, community care settings and hospitals ߝ are the key to uncovering issues and we give them the tools in this book to do this.

What was the driver behind writing this textbook?
Many nurses in the field are caring for aging adults with mental health issues, but they don’t have access to the latest science in both specialties. We recognized the problem when we developed our first graduate certificate program in geropsychiatric mental health nursing and no current book existed that combined these topic areas. We decided to take the lead in developing a textbook that blends gerontology, the study of aging, with psychiatric mental health because of our faculty expertise in both areas. For the health of our nation, it’s critical that we advance a specialty in graduate education for geropsychiatric and mental health nursing.

Who will benefit from this book?
Nursing schools and psychology departments will all benefit. By enhancing the geropsychiatric and mental health knowledge, skills, and attitudes for all levels of academic preparation of nurses ߝ baccalaureate and master’s, including clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners ߝ we can help people live healthier and more fulfilling lives. I know family members who have bought this book to help them care for loved ones.

What advice do you give people caring for aging relatives?
As a family caregiver, you are the first line of defense, so to speak. You can help physicians and nurses piece together a diagnosis by sharing all information about what you observe. You could be noticing isolation, sadness, stress or memory loss. All of this information should be brought to a clinician’s attention.
Read selected chapters from the textbook “Geropsychiatric and Mental Health Nursing,” published by Jones & Bartlett Learning in Sudbury, Mass.

Susan Crocker Houde
UMass Lowell Interim Dean of the School of Nursing; Director of Center for Gerontology Research & Partnerships Karen Devereaux Melillo
Karen Devereaux Melillo