Aging with Mental Illness

May Louie

Reprinted from "Seniors' Mental Health" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 15, p. 26

We all grow old — like it or not. As one grows older there are many problems. There are physical problems such as arthritis, osteoporosis and stamina. Because of this, seniors may need housing without too many stairs, or without too many hills in the surrounding area. Sometimes older people lose their status and feel they are not as useful. They may be more isolated and go out less, because they don’t have to go to work or school. At times, they may have concerns and uncertainty over how to improve their life, or about who will listen to them. Seniors from different cultures may come up against different circumstances. It’s a double whammy for seniors with a mental health problem.

Let’s take Raymond, who is 67 years old with a mental illness. He has lived in the Capitol Hill boarding home for more than ten years. He feels the staff treats him well. The food is soso; could be better. They say that group home food is not very good and that the staff doesn’t eat the food they prepare. Maybe things would be more home-like for Raymond if the staff ate with the residents. This would give the staff more incentive to prepare delicious food.

The Capitol Hill home is a good location for Raymond because it’s near bus stops and there’s also the Senior Confederation Centre where he goes twice a week for coffee. Raymond doesn’t feel isolated and goes to mental health organizations such as the 7:30 Club and Burnaby Mental Wealth Society. At the 7:30 Club, he plays card games and board games with his friends and at Burnaby Mental Wealth Society he can get a good May Louie May lives in Burnaby. In high school, she was interested in the Long-Term Care Aide program. After completing high school, she was a volunteer friend with a senior in a rest home. Aging with Mental Illness home-cooked meal, cooked by consumer staff, for $2. However, money is a problem for Raymond if he goes out too often for dinners to restaurants, and he’s limited to low-cost restaurants only.

He feels pretty good for a 67-year-old but he has a little bit of a sore leg, which he is concerned about because he needs to walk to places and doesn’t have a car. He is concerned about his health and takes medication for his mental illness. Side effects like tardive dyskinesia (uncontrolled Parkinson-like movements that are irreversible even after discontinuing the medication) or acute dyskinesia (uncontrollable movement that is reversible or short-term) can be a problem for people like Raymond who have been taking medication like Haldol for a long period of time. The new atypical drugs are supposed to have fewer side effects, but because they are new, there is no research about what the long-term side effects might be. Raymond fortunately does not have these side effects. He is very capable and independent.

In general, there needs to be more focus on seniors with mental illness, so people have a better life and don’t get isolated. Mental health organizations could provide bus trips for people who have difficulties walking long distances — for example, weekly bus outings to places of peoples’ choice, and maybe a two-dollar incentive for coffee. Group homes could provide transportation to mental health organizations’ events. When locating a place for seniors like Raymond, you need to find a quiet place, and focus on the amenities around the home such as bus stops and seniors centres.

 
About the author
May lives in Burnaby. In high school, she was interested in the Long-Term Care Aide program. After completing high school, she was a volunteer friend with a senior in a rest home
Close