Late-Life Mental Health Professionals Applaud Reintroduction of Positive Aging Act

Published Friday, June 7, 2013

On June 7, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) reintroduced the Positive Aging Act, S.1119, which will improve the accessibility and quality of mental health services for the country’s rapidly growing older population. The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP), which has long promoted better access to mental health care for older adults, strongly supports the goals of the bill and the senators’ efforts to advance late-life mental health.

“If enacted, this legislation would help older Americans receive vital mental health services,” said AAGP President David C. Steffens, MD, MHS. “The bill would provide mental health screenings, appropriate referrals for follow-up care and consultations, and the use of available evidence-based protocols for common mental disorders.” AAGP has continued to work closely with members of the Senate and the House Representatives and their staffs since the inception of this legislation and has also worked closely with other organizations interested in mental health and aging in advocating its passage.  

The Positive Aging Act is designed to make mental health services for older adults an integral part of primary care services in community settings and to extend them to other settings where older adults reside and receive services. The evidence-based services under this legislation will be provided by interdisciplinary teams of mental health professionals working in collaboration with other providers of health and social services.  

Depression, dementia, anxiety, and substance abuse among Americans over age 65 are growing problems that result in functional dependence, long-term institutional care, and reduced quality of life. Missed opportunities to diagnose and treat mental diseases are taking a huge toll on the elderly and increasing the burden on families and the health care system.

“Because of the inattention to mental health, older adults seen by their primary care physicians are too often misdiagnosed or improperly treated, and illnesses like depression and anxiety complicate their medical conditions and lead to excess physical disability,” Dr. Steffens said. 

Today’s health system needs better screening and diagnostic tools for primary care practitioners, better training of primary care practitioners in identifying mental disorders in their geriatric patients, and collaboration with mental health professionals on-site in primary care settings.

Specifically, the Positive Aging Act would provide essential mental health services for older adults by authorizing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to: 

•Support demonstration projects to integrate mental health services in primary care settings; 

•Support grants for community-based mental health treatment outreach teams;  

•Designate a Deputy Director for Older Adult Mental Health Services in the Center for Mental Health Services; 

•Include representatives of older Americans or their families and geriatric mental health professionals on the Advisory Council for the Center for Mental Health Services;

•Include targeting substance abuse in older adults in projects of national significance; and

•Require state plans under Community Mental Health Services Block Grants to include descriptions of the states’ outreach to and services for older individuals.

The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry is a national association representing and serving 2000 geriatric psychiatrists and other late-life mental health care professionals and the field of geriatric psychiatry. It is dedicated to promoting the mental health and well being of older people and improving the care of those with late-life mental disorders. AAGP’s mission is to enhance the knowledge base and standard of practice in geriatric psychiatry though education and research and to advocate for meeting the mental health needs of older Americans.

# # #