Americans age 65 and older are living longer and, in many
cases, finding greater opportunities for a satisfying life
in their later years. But for many older adults—particularly
those experiencing mental disorders or substance abuse—a
sense of well-being remains elusive.
Some older adults experience late onset of mental and addictive
illnesses; others have experienced them throughout their lives.
Older adults may experience depression and anxiety as they
face physical decline, death of family members and other loved
ones, and increased limitations on independence. In lieu of
seeking treatment, some older adults—as with other populations—may
"self-medicate" with alcohol. Further, older adults
may misuse prescription medications, often inadvertently.
As the Baby Boom generation ages, the number of older adults
is increasing, underscoring the imperative for SAMHSA to respond
to unmet needs.
The principle underlying all our programs at SAMHSA is that
people of all ages with or at risk for mental or addictive
disorders should have the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives
in their communities. SAMHSA has already developed a number
of programs and initiatives for older adults—some of
them highlighted in this issue of SAMHSA News—while
simultaneously formulating a SAMHSA-wide Older Adults Action
Plan that will coordinate and enhance all our efforts.
For example, SAMHSA awarded $5 million through a Targeted
Capacity Expansion program in 2002 that emphasizes both early
intervention and the development and use of successful practices
for older adults with mental illnesses. (See cover story,
Older Adults: Improving Mental Health
Services.) This program also includes a Positive Aging
Resource Center, which not only provides assistance to the
program's grantees, but also offers information to older adults,
their caregivers, and health and social service professionals.
(See SAMHSA News, Resources
for Older Adults.)
In August, SAMHSA is joining with the Administration on Aging
and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to hold
a Policy Academy on Aging. Eight competitively selected states
will develop or enhance their service systems for older adults
through a more comprehensive and coordinated approach.
Our goal at SAMHSA is not merely to manage symptoms but to
build resilience and facilitate recovery. We need to remember
that mental health promotion and substance abuse reduction
are issues throughout the continuum of life. We must offer
everyone—including older adults—treatment, support,
and services that reflect a full range of interventions, so
that every American, across all age groups, has the chance
to pursue a fulfilling life in the community.
Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W.