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Behavioral health treatment a key to unlocking older adults’ golden years

“I never had a problem before” is a comment often heard as people age into their 50s—a time when individuals can be caught off-guard as risk factors increase for mental health and substance use disorders.

Just as the body metabolizes differently with age, the brain also changes. Nearly one-in-five adults over age 50 are susceptible to addiction because of a combination of biological and life transitions. In addition, while depression is rare until around age 75, adults with chronic health conditions or those who are hospitalized or in home healthcare are much more likely to experience a mental health disorder.

Rosecrance Jackson Centers Vice President of Clinical Services Brenda Iliff has observed this for years. She has dedicated much of her career to developing treatment programs for aging adults and was a field examiner for The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’ (SAMHSA) Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) on older adults’ substance use. She has spoken for national audiences, including AARP.

“Older adults are wonderfully valuable people, yet their needs are often overlooked,” she said. “Just think of all the life change that normally happens as we age and how that puts them at risk as they try to cope with transitions, grief, and loss.”

Older Americans Month, observed each May, celebrates all that these individuals contribute to society, their friends, and families. For those affected by a substance use or mental health disorder, treatment often is effective because of a lifetime spent building healthy coping skills and resilience.

“The neat thing about this group is that a gentle nudge back onto the right path is all it takes for them to embrace recovery,” Iliff said. “When recovery happens, the world opens up. Older adults lose their shame and recover integrity, and the next thing you know, they are connected and energized to live their best life.”

Older adults who seek treatment often flourish best in a program that values each person as an individual. Rosecrance’s evidence-based treatment program is built around the needs and goals of each individual with a holistic perspective on recovery.