A report by the Institute of Medicine said millions of baby boomers will likely face difficulties getting diagnoses and treatment for mental health conditions and substance abuse problems unless there is a major effort to significantly boost the number of health professionals to supply this care as this population ages.
Dan G. Blazer of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said the magnitude of the problem is so great that no single approach or isolated changes in a few federal agencies would address the problem.
"There is a conspicuous lack of national attention to ensuring that there is a large enough healthcare work force trained to care for older adults with mental health and substance use conditions," Blazer said in a statement. "These conditions are relatively common, they can be costly, and they can have profound negative impacts on people's health and well-being. This report is a wake-up call that we need to prepare now or our older population and their extended families will suffer the consequences."
The committee, which prepared the report, conservatively estimated between 5.6 million to 8 million older Americans -- 14 percent to 20 percent of the nation's overall elderly population -- have one or more mental health conditions or problems stemming from substance misuse or abuse.
Depressive disorders and dementia-related behavioral and psychiatric symptoms are the most prevalent, but rates of accidental and intentional misuse of prescription medications are increasing, Blazer said.