Older Adult

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 Dr. Krishnaiah.

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.

[ top ]