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Psychotherapy - Barriers To Treatment

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The present body of research in geropsychology supports psychotherapy as a treatment option for older persons with psychological disorders. However, several limitations curb its effectiveness. Older adults are less likely to report psychological problems and to seek help from mental health professionals or physicians than are younger adults. This may be due to social stigma associated with treatment for psychological problems. Psychological problems in elderly persons may also be underdiagnosed because they may pass off psychiatric symptoms as signs of physical illness. The responsibility for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders in older adults is often left to primary care physicians, who have a limited amount of time with their patients. Also, mental health professionals with expertise in geriatric psychology are quite few, and therefore may not be available for referral.

Even when diagnosed, not all late-life psychological problems are treated adequately. Ageism still pervades American health policy and the minds of many health care providers. Research by Ford and Sbordone found that psychiatrists viewed elderly patients as less likely to respond to treatment than their younger counterparts. Only since 1989 has Medicare covered outpatient mental health care, and it still only covers 50 percent of the cost, compared with 80 percent coverage of physical health care costs.

Despite these barriers, there is convincing evidence that older adults respond as well to psychotherapy as do younger adults. It is important to begin to address the individual, physician, and policy barriers that prevent older adults with psychiatric disorders from receiving aggressive treatment.

CHRISTINE M. VITT AUTUMN EDENFIELD THOMAS R. LYNCH

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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