Could day clinics be the answer for elderly people with mental-health issues?

The baby boomers are longer-lived than previous generations, but they still experience similar rates of mental illness. Day clinics may be the way to address this concern.

When most of us think of elderly mental-health problems, we think of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety are rife in older people, too, and they often go undetected and undertreated. The mental-health needs of older people differ from those of the young. So, how should older people be cared for then? Perhaps, as suggested by a recent study at New Zealand’s only psychiatric day hospital, the Canterbury District Health Board’s Burwood Day Clinic, some of them would do best at a mental-health day clinic. It’s a place that bridges the gap between community care and hospital.

The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal in August, included data collected since 1987 and involved 380 patients aged 65 years and older, most of whom were cognitively unimpaired. It found that all measures of mental well-being increased from intake to discharge, and that day-hospital treatment for older people may be an effective method of treating psychiatric disorder.

The author, Burwood clinical psychologist Petra Ann Hoggarth, cautions that the study can’t definitively say that day clinics do cause improvements to elderly mental health; there was no control group, for one thing. And psychogeriatric day hospitals are an astonishingly poorly studied area; Burwood’s is only the second-ever study on this topic and comes 17 years after the previous one was published on a German day clinic (which also found day hospitals helped improve mental health for older people).

But this study does suggest the clinics may help those older adults in the grey area of mental-health care – they have more needs than can be addressed at home, but they don’t need hospital admission. It suggests we could do with more mental-health day clinics such as Burwood.

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About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.