According to AARP, 10,000 Baby Boomers are reaching retirement every day and the U.S. Census Bureau’s assessments bear those figures out. They predict that by 2030, “one in five residents will be retirement age.”
The World Health Organization states globally 15 percent of adults over 60 suffer from a mental disorder with dementia and depression topping the list. The Centers for Disease Control published a study last year that projected the rate of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to increase 3.3%—or 417 million people—by 2060.
“When seniors get admitted it’s in the context of dementia but not in memory impairment. They may have agitation or aggression,” said Kristina Zdanys, M.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry at UConn Health.
“They may have psychosis or be paranoid or delusional. And those symptoms are difficult to manage.”
Nationwide, there has been a need for more extensive psychiatric care with many patients ending up in emergency rooms. Many hospitals are addressing the issue by increasing the number of psychiatric beds available as the first line of defense in alleviating emergency room visits and excessive wait times.
Bristol Hospital is among them. The facility opened a psychiatric unit for seniors 65 and over admitting patients in early March.
The $3.4 million project for the 15-bed inpatient behavioral health unit is meant for short-term care so that patients can return home. But as Genevieve Henry, M.D., a geriatric psychiatrist and the medical director for Bristol Hospital’s Senior Behavioral Health Unit, pointed out, living longer also means being sick longer.
“Elderly patients are surviving their illnesses but with a lot of health issues,” she said. “When they’re older, patients are more frail and need more internal medical needs for infections and wound care or even physical therapy. Baby Boomers are the tip of the iceberg.”
Hebrew Senior Care, a member of the Connecticut Senior Hospital Alliance with Wallingford’s Masonicare Health Care, has expansion plans underway for the short-term unit of its West Hartford hospital.
In an effort to address the gap in psychiatric services for seniors, the $1 million project will increase the unit from 22 psychiatric beds to 38.
Denise Peterson, RN, MSHCA, NEA-BC, FACHE, president and CEO of Hebrew Senior Care, said its 65-plus market has grown.
By next year, it is estimated to increase by 15 percent to a total of 230,000 senior patients. She added there are thousands of senior patients but they often don’t seek treatment. Instead, they end up in the ER with comorbid issues.
“We receive patients from all over the state. We have 93 percent occupancy most of the time,” she explained. “We are seeing a growing need and we specialize in that. That’s why we are expanding to 16 more beds.”
Madelene Francese, Hebrew Senior Care’s vice president of marketing and development, pointed out a statistic. “We are the sixth oldest state in the U.S.” she said. “In the time we’ve explored this project, we went from seventh in the country to sixth.”
Peterson said that 16 beds are a good start and relieves the pressure. But as Connecticut’s residents age, they experience behavioral health issues in addition to physical ailments like pneumonia, Parkinson’s, and medical problems related to long-term substance abuse like alcoholism or opioid addiction.
Francese said, “People with mental illnesses have poor medical health in general. They’re not going to the doctor regularly or taking their meds. By the time they come to us, they need not just psychiatric help but medical help.”