As life expectancy increases, there is little dispute about the need for additional mental health services in this country. This need brings with it a rising concern for the high cost and availability of these services. These issues not only concern the public at large, but also become a pressing problem confronting health care professionals as the population as a whole continues to age.
Expected to be enacted in the near future, the health care reform package is hoped to contain provisions for improved access to mental health care for everyone. Nurses, especially gerontological nurses, should be at the f orefront to ensure that mental health care is incorporated into the overall health care agenda.
Improved access and affordable mental health services require creative interventions. Greater numbers of advanced level clinicians will be required to develop, test, and implement such programs /treatments. Advanced practice gerontological nurses, a major untapped resource, must be trained and must step forward in order to continue to define positive mental health outcomes for the growing elderly population. They must be ready to become key players in health care in the upcoming decades.
To maximize the role of the advanced practice gerontological nurse and to move health reform forward in mental health care, the educational programs in nursing must begin to restructure and integrate content that is specific to the mental health of the elderly. This must occur especially if the patient/client is to be seen within a holistic context. It is timely and imperative that gerontological and psychiatric nursing begin to more effectively blend their curricular content with respect to the elderly. Isolated specialty content will no longer be the most effective or efficient educational model used to achieve the curricular goals of advanced practice nursing when addressing the mental health care of our elders.
Prevention of illness, whether physical or mental, and the promotion of physical and mental health are areas that need to be addressed by gerontological and psychiatric nurses (Alford, 1992). With documented practice techniques, reduction of stress is known to have a positive effect on mental and physical health. The elderly should not be excluded from the benefit of such intervention techniques. At various practice sites, nurses now identify mental health problems and assist patients/clients with taking responsibility for their personal health.
With the increasing inclusion of the elderly in such programs, a beneficial effect in the reduction of elderly health care costs might occur Let us hope that when the health care reform package comes, it will address the needs of the elderly and allow an opening for the merger of gerontological and psychiatric nursing practices. These changes will give new hope to the elderly and present a new challenge to nursing, an everchanging profession.
- Alford, D., Futrell, M. Wellness and health promotion of the elderly. Nursing Outlook 1992; 40(5): 221-226.