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Discussion, Thursday

On seniors and mental health

Expert takes your questions

Globe and Mail Update

Mental illness knows no age. It can strike children, but it can also strike seniors.

And like so many things affecting mental health issues, society has its share of prejudices, including those around mental illness in the aging population. There are no major "runs for the cure" or gala fundraisers in this field. The very few health-care professionals who understand both geriatric and mental-health care are stretched thin.

But there are those working to change that, including Dr. David Conn, co-chair of the Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health and a geriatric psychiatrist, who will be joining us Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET for a live discussion on the subject of mental health and the aging population.

Do you worry about the mental health of an elderly parent? Are you confused about medications? Do you want to know more about the health of the aging brain? Send your questions now and read Dr. Conn's answers, which are being posted at the bottom of this page.

Dr. David Conn is currently the Vice-President of Medical Services and Academic Education and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto. He is the Co-Chair of the Canadian Coalition for Seniors' Mental Health and Chair of the Coalition's National Guidelines Project. He is Past President of the Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Dr. Conn completed his Medical Degree at Trinity College, Dublin, and his training in psychiatry was carried out at the University of Toronto. He subsequently completed a Fellowship in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He joined the Department of Psychiatry at Baycrest in 1983 and has been the Department Head since 1992. He has a keen interest in telemedicine and is currently the Medical Director of Telehealth Services at Baycrest. He is also Medical Director of the Mood and Related Disorders Clinic and Co-Director of the Brain Health Centre.

His academic interests include nursing home psychiatry, the psychiatric consequences of brain disease in the elderly and late life mood disorders. He is the co-editor of three textbooks including "Practical Psychiatry in the Long-Term Care Home: A Handbook for Staff". He received the 2005 Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry Award for Outstanding Contributions to Geriatric Psychiatry in Canada.

Editor's Note: editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Christine Diemert, Thanks for joining us today Dr. Conn. This is a subject that has a particular interest for me because I, like many people in my generation, have an aging parent whose care at times has become a central cause for concern in the family.

I get the sense depression is something many seniors battle. Is this true? Are depression and anxiety issues fairly common among the elderly?

How often are seniors prescribed anti depressants and how well is their progress monitored when they are taking these drugs? Also, how well does that type of medication mix with others many seniors take, such as blood thinners or heart pills? Is it possible they become a toxic cocktail?

Dr. David Conn: Depression occurs frequently among seniors. It is important to note that there are different types of depression ranging from transient depressive symptoms which can occur as a reaction to a loss or stressful situation to serious Clinical Depression (or major depression) which is more severe and persistent and is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sleep and appetite disturbance and low energy & motivation. Depression can also be chronic, even lifelong in some individuals (called dysthymia).

Antidepressants are frequently prescribed especially in settings where depression is more common such as nursing homes. About 25 per cent of nursing home residents are receiving an antidepressant. These medications may be prescribed for depression or serious anxiety or sometimes for agitation or insomnia.

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Return to Breakdown: Canada’s Mental Health Crisis

Face it. Fund it. Fix it.

In Breakdown, The Globe and Mail documents the enormous, unaddressed cost of mental illness to Canadian individuals, families and society. The series closes with a search for solutions.


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