How pharmacists can support older people with mental health issues: a personal view

By Dr Amanda Thompsell, Chair of the Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Having met with members of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to talk about their mental health campaign it made me reflect on the many ways that pharmacists support older people with mental health issues.

Not only do pharmacists give helpful advice around reducing unnecessary medications, on side effects and potential drug interactions and ways to improve adherence, but pharmacists help in so many other ways that can go unnoticed.

There is the time spent by the community pharmacist explaining to the older person when their medicine has changed colour/shape/size as a different brand has been prescribed. This change in their medications can cause great anxiety to older people (not surprisingly) and if this change is not explained they will often stop the medication whilst seeking advice from their GP or community psychiatric team with potentially negative consequences.

The community pharmacist also has a key role particularly if someone who has dementia develops swallowing problems. That expert knowledge of how the medication can be given in a different form perhaps as liquids or crushed is essential in ensuring that consequences from giving the medication in the wrong way are avoided.

This collaborative working with pharmacists is something that old age psychiatrists particularly value and it made me realise that as a Faculty that we have some resources that we ought to be sharing with our community pharmacy colleagues so here they are.

Firstly there is Mind Ed. This is a Health Education England online resource which used to be for children and young adults but which now has information specifically about older people’s mental health (not dementia as there is the excellent Alzheimer’s Society site for this). It is for older people, their families and carers. This is a good resource and has been written by a range of experts and co-produced by older lay authors to make it easy to read and use. Currently there are 20 sessions with such titles as I can’t sleep, I’m not enjoying life, and where there is depression there is hope. You can also find it under resources in our Faculty webpage.

I also wanted to tell you about you an animated five-minute video on depression in older people. Research suggests that health care professionals often do not consider depression as a diagnosis in older people despite there often being risk factors such as multiple long-term conditions. The depression video runs through how depression can present, what two questions to ask to look for depression, what the risk factors are and are and most importantly what can be done to treat it.

I hope these resources that have been produced to increase awareness of older peoples’ mental health issues will be of use and I look forward to ongoing collaboration with the RPS in the future.


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