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Conference Puts Spotlight on Mental Health Issues Affecting Older Montanans

AARP Montana is teaming up Pathways Treatment Center, affiliated with Kalispell Regional Medical Center, the Geriatric Care and Mental Health Advisory Council and the Northwest Healthcare Foundation to sponsor the fourth annual Western Montana Geriatric Care and Mental Health Conference Oct. 5.

See Also: Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, advocate for the mentally ill

Under the theme “the upside of down, geriatric depression recovery,” a host of experts in the field of mental health care for elders will present on a range of topics associated with depression in older adults.

“Older adults and their advocates are much more aware of the disabling and tragic consequences of mental illness in late life, especially depression, anxiety and the agitation that is associated with dementia. They also recognize that we can do something about it,” said Jim Higgins, AARP Montana Executive Council Member and a member of the conference planning team. “We need to remember that depression, anxiety disorders, and psychosis, while different in many ways in older adults, are just as treatable as these corresponding disorders in young adults.”

Speakers and general themes of the conference include: Judge David Ortley presenting on mental health and the courts - a view from the bench; Gary Morrison, Pharmacist presenting on pharmaceuticals and the geriatric mental health patient; Richard Rough presenting on the Montana Medical Wavier Program; Joan Daly of Montana State Hospital; Sandra Hare presenting on compassion fatigue; Brooks Baer presenting on geriatric risk suicide factors and prevention; Sue Kunda presenting on ombudsman services available in Montana.

In addition to presentations aimed at the general public, the conference will target registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers, counselors, case managers and others involved with caring for the elderly. Recognizing the importance of training those on the front lines, conference organizers made arrangements for the availability of continuing nursing education credits and continuing education for social workers and counselors at 5.25 contact hours for the day’s session.

AARP Montana will sponsor a welcome reception the evening before the event that is free and open to the public. AARP members, volunteers, community partners, opinion leaders and statewide and local elected officeholders are welcome to attend. At the reception, a brain health expert will share the secrets of staying mentally astute during a Staying Sharp presentation.

AARP Montana is sponsoring the event in response to a Montana based survey of 50+ adults in which 96 percent indicated that staying healthy and staying sharp were among their top concerns.

The Geriatric Care and Mental Health Advisory Council is a grass-roots initiative working to link organizations, engage lawmakers, build a family support network, actively seek grants, recruit business support, recommend state system improvements and educate caregivers. Members also plan to develop a panel addressing behavioral issues and develop treatment protocols for local geriatric clients. After sharing their perspectives at the annual conference, participants commit to carrying the work forward.

“The fact that Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation among the elderly coupled with the fact that Medicare coverage for mental health issues is lacking means that we still face many challenges as we work to find solutions to these complex problems,” said Higgins.

Fourth Annual Western Montana Geriatric Care and Mental Health Conference “The Upside of Down, Geriatric Depression Recovery”

The conference will be held at Flathead Valley Community College, 777 Grandview Drive, Kalispell, MT 59901. Oct. 4 is the Welcome Reception at 6 pm and Oct. 5 the Conference runs from 7:30 am to 4 pm.

To register, call Pathways Treatment Center 406-756-3950. The cost is $40, which includes breakfast, lunch and conference materials. Scholarships are available – call Pathways for details at 406-756-3950.