2010 Spanish Presidency conference on mental health in older people

On 28 & 29 June 2010, the Spanish Presidency held a Conference entitled "Mental Health and Well-Being in Older People – Making it Happen" in Madrid, Spain.

During the conference, speakers and participants raised several points as conclusions for the

  • The aging of the European population in the coming decades will require more and better policies to ensure good mental health and wellbeing in this growing population.
  • The ageism, negative stereotypes and negative attitudes against ageing and older people which still exists must be stopped. Furthermore a greater public recognition of elder abuse is needed.
  • Older people as the target group for mental health promotion (MHP) must be recognised as a widely heterogeneous and diverse group. A definition of older people only by a certain age range is misleading.
  • The balance between vulnerability and resilience is central in mental health promotion and (the combination of) certain groups with specific burden face a higher risk of poorer mental health (e.g. higher age groups, migrants/ethnic minorities, isolated, depressed and people with dementia).
  • Older women often face specific risks which increase their vulnerability both as people with mental health problems and care givers. Policies to support them and interventions to prevent mental health problems and isolation in older women must be strengthened.
  • Interventions to prevent social isolation and loneliness can be effective MHP measures. In addition, personal strengths and resilience factors in older age must be taken into account in an integral policy strategy (e.g. women-only and gender sensitive services, interventions for informal carers).
  • An increase in social inclusion and participation of older people must be a very high priority in order to promote active ageing and quality of life in a holistic way by addressing:
    o Life-long learning, training and education of older people
    o Psychological and behavioural determinants of health, such as self-efficacy and a positive view of life
    o Socio-economic determinants
    o Taking cultural activities and aspects into account, e.g. dancing, singing,
    leisure, pleasure, laughter, etc.
  • The promotion of active partnerships, collaboration and exchange networks between
    actors in the field should be supported and widened out
    o e.g. between research, health and social care sector (intersectoral approach) and policy level (national to local level) in a multi-professional, multi-disciplinary way
    o consulting and including older people themselves in developing policy and practice has an essential role.
  • Dissemination of results, social innovation and innovative ideas and approaches are needed in the field. A better visibility of practical relevance and social marketing could help to transfer results into the practice and policy field (e.g. by including powerful national ministries)
  • Mental health promotion research related to older people should be strengthened in order to improve scientific evidence and should concentrate on issues where the evidence base is weakest:
    o The effectiveness of volunteering, one-to-one support measures, ICT (e.g. internet networking and eHealth), specific retirement policies (for older workers) in improving mental health outcomes needs to be demonstrated.
    o More scientifically proven information on resilience factors are needed (successful ageing, laughter, appreciation of beauty, humour, religion, etc.) and about specific groups in specific situations (e.g. older carers, older workers, consequences on mental health of elder abuse).
    o The demonstration of economic value (cost-benefit/effectiveness) of promotion
    and prevention interventions and of supporting informal carers.
  • The appropriate use of medication is crucial for optimal mental health and functioning in all ages but especially among older people. This requires that correct prescription of medicines be prioritised and all logistics around medication issues well-organised to minimize adverse events. Interdisciplinary coordination and cooperation embedded in learning settings are vital.

During the conference, Alzheimer Europe Executive Director, Jean Georges, chaired a session on informal carers.