New Jersey: Seniors Mental Health Problems


In New Jersey, a project is being undertaken to help seniors dealing with different types of mental health issues.  The city’s Healthcare Foundation has recently made it financially viable to hire four part-time elder-life specialists (ELS) to work with the delirium program at the Overlook Medical Center.

The task of an ELS is to work with: the patient, their families, nursing staff and anyone else involved in the case.  The healthcare plan is discussed amongst all the involved parties.  These specialists are able to provide support that other healthcare individuals simply do not have the time or resources to undertake. For example, they can facilitate the process for the patient’s carers to access alternative treatments, that are not so readily available, as well as ensure proper management of the patient’s sensory impairment, providing for as much mobility as possible. 

In addition, ELS’s relieve the strain on nurses, taking over some of their tasks, such as visiting the patients on a daily basis.  It’s a huge support for everyone. 

HELP: Hospital Elder Life Programs

Hospital Elder Life Programs (HELP) are a superb invention for geriatric care.  Set up to boost the development of interdisciplinary clinical geriatric expertise in all fields, hospitals become recognized as centers for excellence in geriatric care.  It is geriatric professionals – which are often lacking in many states – that form the basis of the HELP program. 

Indeed, as noted in a previous post, as it is, in Canada for example, there are a mere 420 geriatricians available to serve 4.2 million seniors.  So at least if there are more ELS’s and HELP programs, that’s a step in the right direction.  Those professionals who form the HELP team include:  Elder Life Nurse Specialists (nurses with experience in geriatrics), Elder-Life Specialists, Geriatricians, Program Directors (a role that can be undertaken by geriatricians or elder life nurse specialists); interdisciplinary support staff and volunteers.

While there are not nearly enough geriatricians in New Jersey (a mere 298 in Morristown), the increase in elder-life specialists and other workers in the HELP program, will definitely be of assistance.  Just looking at the statistics nationwide, it seems that according to Care Family there is an estimated increase for the next two decades of 13 to 20 percent in the senior population.  Morristown, NJ will follow suit.  Thus more carers – in all professional capacities – for the elderly, are required.  Further, 13.5 percent of the population of NJ is over-65 right now, which is slightly higher than the 13 percent nationwide average.

It is hoped that geriatric care and special assistance for those elderly battling mental health issues will improve in New Jersey as well as nationwide.

“Dementiaville” in Downtown Switzerland?

How bad would it be if there were a home for elderly individuals suffering mental diseases, living in a home that is based on a mock-1950s village in Switzerland?  Critics are claiming Wiedlisbach will be termed “Dementiaville”– aka a village of crazies, but those in favor of the idea, point to a similar establishment that was set up in Holland – Hogewey – a few years ago where residents seemed relaxed and happy.

At the home, residents will be free to move about as they please, without leaving the premises.  The carers won’t be dressed in white coats, but be made to look like regular workers such as hairdressers and gardeners.  The theory behind it is that since those with dementia often exhibit aggressive behaviors, the trick is to find ways to minimize this and that seems to be what Hogewey has been successful at doing.  The reason these models are based on 1950s style houses that look like standard houses with front gardens, is because this gives them a sense of security.  While they may not remember what happened yesterday, they do recall their lives in the 1950s and this makes them feel safe. It is known as “traveling back in time.”

Program Critics

Really? That’s all it takes?  Just take dementia patients “back in time” and then they can live normal lives and easily reintegrate into society?  That seems a bit too simplistic. Indeed, Sonnweid (dementia) home director Michael Schmieder points out the problems with it that – as makes sense – people with dementia simply don’t have a sense of normality.  Such a program is trying to fake this for them and he believes it won’t work.  And he still wants his patients to be comfortable by offering five star treatment, BUT it’s in the here and now, not more than half a century ago.