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Aging Boomers' Mental Health Woes Will Swamp Health System: Report
Date:7/10/2012

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- The United States faces an unprecedented number of aging baby boomers with mental health or substance use issues, a number so great it could overwhelm the existing health care system, a new report warned Tuesday.

"The report is sufficiently alarmist," said Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "I think [the report authors] are right."

Kennedy was not involved with the report, The Mental Health and Substance Use Workforce for Older Adults: In Whose Hands? It was mandated by Congress and issued by The Institute of Medicine in light of a "silver tsunami" of health care needs expected to accompany a senior population that will reach 72.1 million by 2030.

The "silver tsunami" is the result of simple supply-and-demand forces gone awry, the report authors explained.

Up to 8 million older Americans, or 20 percent of the current senior population, suffer from some form of mental health condition, often depression, at-risk drinking or dementia-related behavioral and psychiatric symptoms, according to the IOM report. (A basic diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease was excluded from the study.)

And 2 million seniors have severe mental illnesses, a number that is "greatly under-appreciated," said Dr. Peter Rabins, one of the authors of the report.

Also, as baby boomers age, studies indicate that their use of illicit drugs will continue.

"The reality is the Woodstock Generation has come of age," said Kennedy. "Their background is with psychedelic drugs, marijuana, recreational drugs, non-narcotics . . . It's a real problem."

Against these growing problems, meanwhile, the number of health providers and other service providers is shrinking in proportion. And that means, according to the report, that "a health care workforce that is not prepared to address ei
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