When most people think of a senior in need of hospice, they think of a physical ailment of some sort, such as a traumatic brain injury, cancer, or complications arising from a fall. Certainly, home hospice does provide medical and nursing assistance to those who have suffered a physical trauma. However, a senior’s mental health can also precipitate the need for hospice care, whether as part of a condition such as Alzheimer’s or as the result of being faced with needing hospice care. It’s true that mental health is an important part of our overall health, but did you also know it can absolutely affect a person’s physical well being or health? Just like any other physical illness or injury, mental illness requires diagnosis and treatment. Hospice can help.

Effects of Psychiatric Symptoms 

Psychiatric symptoms can indeed have an effect on physical health, quality of life and the ability to respond to treatment, says Psychiatry Online. In addition, they can interfere with one’s ability to make decisions, understand his or her situation, or even interact with caregivers properly. Mental health services within the hospice setting are available for seniors to help them cope better with end of life issues. Social workers and, when called for, psychiatrists, counselors and psychologists, can be brought in to augment the hospice team. They work in conjunction with the medical team to come up with a mental health services plan that addresses the underlying issues with each senior. Oftentimes, mental health services encompass the presence of a spiritual care counselor with whom the senior can speak.

A Closer Look

Mental health services within hospice care has been lacking in this country for some time, but more and more organizations are offering it as part of their standard hospice offerings. Research has shown that rapid screening, identification and treatment of mental health symptoms can make a big difference not only in the lives of elderly patients but for their loved ones as well. According to the National Institutes of Health, depression, anxiety, and delirium in those who are terminally ill are highly prevalent disorders that are frequently under-diagnosed. Consequently, the failure to diagnose and treat them can prevent “quality dying” of an elderly patient in hospice.

However, it’s often hard to separate symptoms of depression from symptoms of the terminal disease itself. Certainly, many otherwise mentally well patients can suddenly exhibit depression and other symptoms upon being told they should enter hospice. However, there are many patients who did have a history of mental illness prior to diagnosis and still require help within hospice. It all starts with a conversation with your loved one’s hospice team to determine what the next steps are and how to best go about them.

Types of Mental Illness

There are many different types of mental illness that senior citizens can suffer from, according to WebMD, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders: Generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders, social anxiety, phobias
  • Mood disorders: Depression, bipolar disorders, cyclothymic disorders
  • Psychotic disorders: Hallucinations, schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorders
  • Impulse control and addiction disorders: Alcohol and drug abuse, compulsive gambling
  • Personality disorders: Antisocial personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and paranoid personality disorders

This list is not exhaustive, to be sure. There are a myriad of mental health illnesses that seniors can suffer from. It is up to your loved one’s doctor to diagnose and suggest the appropriate treatment going forward. Keeping the senior happy or at least comfortable during the end stages of life is the main goal here. This is often done with the assistance of a counselor or other mental health professional who meets one on one with the senior throughout their hospice stay. The family is a big part of the process, too.

A Caring Team

Your loved one’s hospice care team should support the patient’s treatment, regardless of the type of mental illness he or she suffers from. A qualified team comprised of psychiatric nurses, counselors and social workers will work with a variety of mental health professionals including psychiatrists and psychologists to develop a hospice plan that supports the individual’s treatment and management of daily life as they navigate through hospice.

It’s important to understand the statistics. According to the American Psychological Association, 15-20% of terminally ill patients are diagnosed with major depression, and 25% of elderly depressed patients changed their minds about end-of-life interventions after treatment.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

If the senior in your life is suffering from mental illness and is facing hospice, get them the care they need. Here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice, we can connect you with the resources you need as part of the hospice team to ensure quality of care throughout the end stages of life. Contact us now to learn more at 888-755-7855. We recognize how difficult it can be to get quality mental health treatment during hospice. You are not alone. Come to Pathways today and find out how we can help.