Depression, Memory Loss and Other Mental Health Could Hurt Seniors' Physical Health

Nov 12, 2013

Dr. Steve Bartels talks to WAER's Jane Hong about improving mental health services for older Central New Yorkers.
Credit John Smith/WAER News

  Seniors in Central New York who aren’t having their mental health conditions addressed and a lack of prevention are likely contributing to rising healthcare costs.  A Geriatric Mental Health Community Action Initiative brought together members in Syracuse today to discuss the issues.  

Findings show that when people are left untreated, it also leads to a decline in overall health.  Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Dartmouth University, Dr. Steve Bartels says less than ten percent of people with mental health needs actually have them addressed.

“Well I think many of the solutions probably aren’t in hospitals and nursing homes, more in the community.  So we need to train community providers, social service providers, primary care doctors, people who see people all the time who are older, in how to assess, screen and do brief treatment for mental health problems in older adults and help to keep them out of nursing homes and out of hospitals.”

  Bartels adds that Seniors may suffer from depression, medication misuse and memory disorders… and the problems can really affect how people function.  He says it could impair their ability to live independently. 


Provost of SUNY Oswego Lorrie Clemo has a background in Public Administration and Public Policy.  She says they’re focusing on Seniors within eight or nine counties in Central New York .

SUNY Oswego Provost Lorrie Clemo. SUNY Oswego's Metro Center has an Active Aging and Community Engagement Center.
Credit John Smith/WAER News

  “One thing we find in the needs assessment that was done here in the Onondaga County area is that the services that we are currently providing are not integrated enough for the elderly to access the mental health services they need.  So bringing people together in this forum should help with the conversations in order to better improve those services.”

Dartmouth’s Dr. Bartel suggests that primary care is a way to distribute Mental Health services but says the issues are funding and also the way Medicare is written.  For example, he explains that Primary Care Doctors can’t address more than one health problem in a single visit or they can be accused of double dipping.