MindEd for Older People

NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia marks the launch of a free web-based resource providing information about mental health, and explains how useful it can be:

We recently saw the launch of MindEd for Older People which has the potential to be a real game changer for older people and their families, and help us better understand how mental health issues affect us as we age.

MindEd for Older People is the latest addition to the MindEd for Families platform which hosts information about mental health issues across the age range and is supported by NHS England in partnership with Health Education England.

This platform can play a crucial role in raising the profile of mental health issues in older people and providing information about their significance, and assessment and treatment options if people wished these.

There have been historic inequalities in access to mental health services and an under-diagnosis of mental health conditions in older people. We know, for example, that older people are a fifth as likely as younger age groups to have access to talking therapies. Moreover, people aged 75 and over are six times as likely to be on tranquilisers or equivalent. Older people themselves may be reluctant to seek help, with fewer than one in six older people with depression ever discussing it with their GP. With this in mind, our team, and colleagues in the sector, felt it was timely to consider a bespoke MindEd section on older people, with a series of key messages to convey.

Contrary to what is still common perception, mental ill-health is not an inevitable part of older age.

While the majority of older people are healthy and happy, conditions such as anxiety and depression are common this age group. As the MindEd resource shows, there are things that tend to happen to us as we get older that can predispose to mental health problems – for example the development of physical long-term conditions, bereavement, failing eyesight and hearing, loss of mobility, loneliness and social isolation.

This is why supporting older people’s mental health is important, particularly as people reach “late older age” and are more likely to live with frailty and a complex mix of health and social care needs.

The free MindEd e-learning sessions are a great way to find out about common mental health issues that we may face in later life, and what we can do about them. They have the potential to make a real difference in tackling stigma against mental ill-health in older age, and in encouraging older people to seek help if they experience a mental health problem.

Age UK recently published a helpful report, Hidden in Plain Sight, which outlined the issues of older people’s mental health. It had a series of recommendations, including the creation of local “older people’s champions” and encouraging local groups to become more aware of mental health problems in older people. The new MindEd resource could guide local services in becoming more aware of these issues and helping more older people to get the care and support they need.

I very much welcome the launch of MindEd for Older People which I think represents a huge step in raising the profile of older people’s mental health problems as well as providing very helpful support and advice to many older people and their loved ones. I would encourage you to share the resources with your friends, families, colleagues and networks.

Our work to raise awareness of older people’s mental health, and particularly depression, has extended to the acute sector. The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ College Centre for Quality Improvement (CCQI) recently published a report depression in older people admitted to acute hospitals, confirming our assumption that this issue remains under-detected.

The report was commissioned by NHS England as a first step in responding to the recommendation in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health to improve the recognition and treatment of depression in older people in acute hospital settings. It is based on a short-term investigation of clinical practice within 27 acute trusts and among 766 older patients from these sites.

Its findings and recommendations will inform quality improvement work that we are scoping out with colleagues at NHS Improvement, with a potential focus on supporting acute hospitals to improve the identification of depression in our older service users. This work will also be closely linked to our ongoing investment to expand liaison mental health services across the country, helping to ensure people’s mental health issues are given parity of esteem when they go to hospital.

I am very pleased that we have supported the launch of these resources as part of our continued effort to raise the profile of older people’s mental health. I look forward to further collaborating with colleagues across the sector to showcase the difference our collective work can make to older people’s lives, particularly as our NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Professor Alistair Burns

Alistair Burns is Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at The University of Manchester and an Honorary Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist in the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. He is the National Clinical Director for Dementia and Older People’s Mental Health at NHS England and NHS Improvement.

He graduated in medicine from Glasgow University in 1980, training in psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital and Institute of Psychiatry in London. He became the Foundation Chair of Old Age Psychiatry in The University of Manchester in 1992, where he has variously been Head of the Division of Psychiatry and a Vice Dean in the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, with responsibility for liaison within the NHS. He set up the Memory Clinic in Manchester and helped establish the old age liaison psychiatry service at Wythenshawe Hospital. He is a Past President of the International Psychogeriatric Association.

He was Editor of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry for twenty years, (retiring in 2017) and is on the Editorial Boards of the British Journal of Psychiatry and International Psychogeriatrics. His research and clinical interests are in mental health problems of older people, particularly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. He has published over 300 papers and 25 books.

He was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2016, received the lifetime achievement award from their old age Faculty in 2015 and was awarded the CBE in 2016 for contributions to health and social care, in particular dementia.