Everyone has the right to proper care for mental health issues. This also applies to the elderly, including those who suffer from dementia. The Age@Minds Fund aims to improve the care of elderly people with mental health issues until the final stage of life. An important aspect of this is recognising the influence of factors that have had an impact during the course of their lives. The Fund is committed to the better recognition, understanding and treatment of mental illness in this often-vulnerable group of people. Sound mental health is invaluable, especially for the elderly and people with dementia.
Dementia and anxiety
Elderly people who have experienced a traumatic event in the past, often find that these unpleasant memories are recalled more often as they get older. This causes distress and anxiety, especially for people with dementia. Telling others their story and sharing their feelings may no longer be possible, so they become trapped in their frustration and stress. This is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Loved ones and healthcare workers may not be equipped to help with this. The development of a person-centred and innovative treatment for PTSD in older people with dementia can change this.
In the Netherlands, approximately 20% of the population is over the age of 65. This percentage will only increase in the coming years. It is estimated that by 2040, one third of the elderly will be over the age of 80. Life expectancy has increased, but so has the number of disorders that affect us as we grow older. With this, the demand for the care of elderly people with mental health issues will increase, of course, and the healthcare sector will be faced with an enormous challenge.
Psychological problems in the elderly are usually not isolated, but are often accompanied by (multiple) physical illnesses, extensive use of medication, dependence on care, deterioration in brain function (as in dementia), phase of life problems and problems finding meaningfulness in life. It has long been thought that the treatment of mental health problems in the elderly was not worthwhile. Fortunately, there is growing evidence that treating these conditions in the elderly can be effective, also in those who suffer from dementia. However, there is still some catching up to do!
Dr. Sjacko Sobczak is a researcher at Maastricht University and a geriatric psychiatrist at Mondriaan Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg (GGZ). She knows that psychological disorders can present themselves differently in older people, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in people with dementia. That is why, along with other experts in the field, she is developing an innovative instrument, called the TRAuma and DEmentia (TRADE) interview, which can be used to diagnose PTSD in people with dementia. Sjacko’s research team is also studying the impact of traumatic life events on elderly people and people with dementia. The team is committed to achieving earlier and more accurate recognition of PTSD in this target group. The aim is to offer personalised care based on the patient’s entire life story.
‘‘When I started working in the nursing home as a medical student, I discovered that there were people who were seen as ‘problematic’ or ‘difficult’, possibly because of aggression or because they constantly called out for help. Now, as a geriatric psychiatrist, I can make a real difference to them.” – Dr. Sjacko Sobczak, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, section Psychopharmacology
Sjacko also wants to help reduce medication use among elderly people with mental health issues. This is because frequent use of medicines is common among elderly people with mental health issues and there is often no evidence that these drugs are really effective. For example, in people with dementia, it may make more sense to first look at underlying traumatic experiences before giving medication to reduce ‘difficult behaviour’.
Recognition of mental disorders
In the coming years, Sjacko’s research team will focus on the recognition of psychological disorders, such as PTSD, in people with dementia. They will explore questions such as: How do traumatic life events affect the behaviour of people with dementia? Which treatments help with PTSD? What dilemmas are faced by the healthcare sector? Ultimately, Sjacko aims to improve care for elderly people and dementia sufferers who have mental health issues. This is so that they, too, can receive care based on proven treatment recommendations.
A committee of experts associated with this fund will assess the expenditures from the Age@Minds Fund for the proposed scientific research. The members of the committee are Kelly Regterschot (Chair; former member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands), Sylvia Heijnen (Healthcare Director for the elderly, Mondriaan), Roger Ruijters (Chairman of the Board, Envida) and Prof. Arjan Blokland (UM).
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Would you like to support the Age@Minds Fund, part of the University Fund Limburg (with ANBI status), in its mission? You can do so by clicking on the donate button below or by transferring your contribution to the bank account of the Universiteitsfonds Limburg/SWOL IBAN: NL21 INGB 0653 6632 42 to the attention of the Age@Minds Fund. We would greatly appreciate your support.
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More information can also be found on the website www.mondriaan.eu.
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