LTC not always valuable at end of life to seniors with mental illness

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Seniors with serious mental illness don't often seek out skilled nursing care at the end of their lives, recently released survey results show.

Mental Health America's online mental health screening program, highlighted in a Health Affairs blog post published Thursday, has screened nearly 10,000 adults over age 65 since 2014.

Results showed that almost half (48%) of older respondents reported already being diagnosed with a mental illness, compared to about one-third of the overall group that participating in the screening. Nearly 40% of older adults who completed the screening also reported having incomes below $40,000 per year, and wanting to seek out professional help but fearing they may not be able to afford it.

When it came to end-of-life care, none of the 10,000 respondents said they were looking for skilled nursing care. Instead, older adults with mental illness were more concerned about their effect on others at the end of their lives, wrote Mental Health America President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo and Senior Policy Director Nathaniel Counts.

“There's a lesson in this: From the perspective of the user, expensive medical services are not necessarily the key to great end-of-life care because these may not be the services that are most valued by people with mental illnesses who are nearing the end of life,” the post reads. “What they do value is a place to live, a place to congregate with others, and the hope that their children will fare better than they do.”

For providers, the results of the screenings show that allowing seniors to make their own end-of-life plans is most important, the authors said.