Face-to-face encounters are better. Talk about changing health. These are a couple of recommendations the American Medical Association offered for primary care doctors in addressing behavioral health with older adults.
“I always respect those who say: You know what? I have a really good colleague who specializes in this and really understands. I want the best for you, and I would like you to see my colleague,” David Baron, DO, a psychiatry professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, said in a recent webinar about how doctors can integrate behavioral health into their regular medical practices.
Primary care doctors are recognizing the importance of incorporating this aspect of wellness. Some primary care doctors have behavioral health care services and practitioners available in the office, such as having a social worker on-site. They may also have a psychiatrist that they trust in the event they need to make a referral.
At the heart of the webinar, Baron shared a few tips to address behavioral health concerns in older people.
- Get to know someone face to face. Baron prefers to meet in person — not virtually — to ask about how they’re doing. A primary care physician can earn the trust of a person and get to know their caregivers and their history. This can be essential in starting the conversation.
- Evaluate aging. Baron said it’s key not to make the patient feel like getting old equates to disease. Ask the person if their symptoms are due to normal aging, or medical cause.
- Look at life factors. Stephanie Nothelle, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said she asks about a lot of things to get a broad view of the person. She asks about any changes to eyesight or hearing health issues that can affect a person’s mood or ability to get around — those can be obstacles to socializing or driving, and tie into mental health issues. She has patients bring their medicine into the office, where she goes over it with them. This helps her know if they are aware about what they’re taking, if they’re taking it correctly, and where any other supplements come into play.