Geriatric Behavioral Health
As people age, they are confronted with physical, emotional and social
changes that can be difficult to manage, even with the devoted support
of family and friends. But there is help for adults coping with aging
and mental health issues – the geriatric psychiatrist – an
integral member of the health care team.
A geriatric psychiatrist is a physician with special training in the diagnosis
and treatment of mental disorders that may occur in older adults. These
disorders include, but are not limited to dementia, depression, anxiety
and late-life schizophrenia. Some common concerns for this population
include dealing with losses – loss of loved ones as well as declining
physical abilities. The geriatric psychiatrist takes a comprehensive approach
by listening and responding to the concerns of older adults, helping families,
and, when appropriate, working with a patient’s primary care doctor
and other health professionals to develop effective approaches to treatment.
"A geriatric psychiatrist is ideally suited to address the mental
health needs of older adults, particularly those over the age of 60,"
says Muralidhar Krishnaiah, MD, Medical Director of the Inpatient Geriatric
Program at the Barnabas Health Behavioral Health Center (formerly Shoreline
Behavioral Health), an affiliate of RWJBarnabas Health. "Geriatric
psychiatrists choose to care for the elderly, and therefore have greater
experience and empathy for the issues they face. A geriatric psychiatrist
takes into account co-existing medical illnesses and medications, dietary
needs, family issues and social concerns and integrates them into a holistic
approach to treatment."
The Barnabas Health Behavioral Health Network offers a complete range of
inpatient and outpatient mental health services for geriatric patients.
There are two Centers of Excellence for Geriatric Psychiatry – in
Belleville at Clara Maass Medical Center and in Toms River at Barnabas
Health Behavioral Health Network, both of which have physicians on staff
who are board certified in Geriatric Psychiatry. Treatments vary based
on the severity of problems, but include psychotherapy, medications, home
health care, outpatient programs structured for maintaining a high level
of independence, and hospitalization providing a structured therapeutic
approach in an appropriate environment.
A person who is experiencing emotional and mental disturbances may dismiss
the symptoms as a normal part of aging or as signs of physical illness.
However, Dr. Krishnaiah explains that many acute mental health problems,
when diagnosed properly, can be effectively treated. "If problems
are caught early, treatment can begin sooner and symptoms can be alleviated,"
he says, adding that short-term treatments can be very beneficial. Older
adults can seek the help of a geriatric psychiatrist directly, but often
it is family members, doctors or caregivers who make the first contact.
Elderly patients experience many changes in their lives making them more
vulnerable to disease, notably, depression. Often the lines are not clear
as to whether a patient’s problem is depression, dementia, or a
medical illnesses presenting as a behavioral disturbance. A geriatric
psychiatrist can be an ally, and his or her special training can help
adults, family members and family physicians get to the heart of a problem
that may seem impenetrable. "It’s okay to seek treatment and
benefit from the valuable help that is available to older adults who are
coping with changes in their health and functioning," emphasizes
If you are coping with mental health issues or have a family member who
is, there is no reason to suffer alone – there is help. Professional
assessment is the first step, with a screening and evaluation for appropriate
mental health interventions available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
through the Barnabas Health Behavioral Health Network ACCESS Center.
Call (800) 300-0628.