Older people prioritise honesty in mental health day care services

Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 00:00

Elderly people attending day care, for those suffering acute mental health problems, want to be listened to and to be told the truth, a new study has shown.

A non-judgmental attitude by staff and a pleasant “homely” atmosphere in day care centres were also deemed important by service users who worry about the potential stigma involved in mental healthcare.

Dr Geraldine McCarthy, consultant psychiatrist with the Psychiatry of Later Life Service in the north west, said that as life-expectancy in Ireland increases, the mental health needs of older people are becoming increasingly important.

Research was carried out among older people from Sligo, Leitrim, west Cavan and south Donegal who formerly attended a Sligo-based day care facility for people undergoing a mental health crisis, such as a suicide attempt, a recent dementia diagnosis or a new onset psychotic episode.

It probed the experiences of both service users and their carers in a region with a population of 15,500 in the 65-plus age group, the highest proportion of older people in the country.

Dr McCarthy described the findings as “quite positive” and said service users, many with acute mental health problems who were able to get through a crisis period, felt they were listened to by staff .

Respondents stressed the importance of being safe, being treated as individuals, being listened to, understood and being given hope.

Dr McCarthy said the research highlighted the importance of “self-integrity” for people under the care of the mental health services, who worried about the stigma involved.

According to the report, the perception of an “open door” at the centre and the pleasant homely atmosphere had a positive impact on service users

The research involved interviews with 13 service users, three male and 10 female, and with six carers, three men and three women. The service users were aged from 68 years to 88 years while a noteworthy feature of the report was the high age profile of carers who were aged 45-75, with an average age of 63.

“This is becoming more common. You see carers in their 60s who perhaps lived overseas and came home to look after a mother who is 90,” said Dr McCarthy.

The social aspect of attending the centre and meeting other people with mental health issues was identified as a benefit.

Researchers noted that “a sense of hope” was instilled through swapping stories and experiences.