Ask any caregiver tending to someone with Alzheimer’s, dementia or mental illness. There are days when that loved one or friend won’t take medication as prescribed, won’t get out bed, and could wind up putting his or her life at risk.
It’s a scenario playing out across the region. As Long Island baby boomers age, experts are seeing an increase in mental health issues affecting the local senior population and their caregivers.
That’s why Hempstead-based Mental Health Association of Nassau County is launching a new awareness campaign letting seniors and caregivers alike know about these emerging mental health issues, and about resources that can help. The initiative was unveiled Monday at the headquarters in Port Washington.
The effort focuses on five key issues: depression and suicide, Alzheimer’s and dementia, aging in place, the dangers of prescription medications and alcohol, and the needs of caregivers.
John Javis, director of special projects at the Mental Health Association, knows about these issues first-hand.
“I myself have been a caregiver, caring for two grandmothers,” he said, adding that one had died in a nursing home, the other at home.
“Some seniors are ashamed or frightened by their symptoms, or believe that they are an inevitable part of aging,” Javis said. “Often, seniors, their loved ones and friends, and even their doctors fail to recognize the symptoms of treatable mental illness.”
County residents are encouraged to call the following hotlines to learn how to access available resources:
- Nassau County Office of the Aging (516) 227-8900
- Mental Health Association of Nassau County (516) 504-HELP
- Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (516) 767-6856
Thane Matthews, of Garden City, has been bringing his 98-year-old mother, Margaret Matthews, to LIAF about four days a week for nearly five years.
"The services are wonderful," he said.
There are days when Margaret Matthews wakes up depressed, not wanting to take her medicines. But that usually changes when Thane Matthews brings her to LIAF. "She's bright, she's smiley, she laughs with everybody," he said.
The difference in mood is like "night and day," he added. And as her caregiver, he said, "It's a lifesaver for me."
The new awareness initiative was made possible by a $70,000 grant from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, which donated another $30,000 to the Mental Health Association to support veterans. South Oaks Hospital-Broadlawn Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation, which has programs in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, also helped develop the awareness campaign.