New Research To Improve Care For Older Adults Living With Mental Health Concerns


Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are very common, with an estimated 23 per cent of Manitobans being affected according to a report from the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. The majority of people with diagnosable mental health disorders do not seek treatment, with older adults being especially unlikely to seek treatment.

When referred to a specialty mental health provider’s office for treatment, older adults tend to be more passive in the process and may not know why they were referred or what options will be available. These patients are less likely to accept treatment, more likely to drop out, and less likely to benefit from treatment. As Canada’s older adult population continues to grow, ensuring older adults receive mental health care when needed is becoming a significant challenge.

Through to the generosity of our supporters, Victoria Hospital Foundation has invested in new research to better understand how to engage older patients referred to specialty geriatric mental health services.

“What we know intuitively and also from research is that when people are invested and engaged and feel like they're a part of this process where they get a say in what's going to happen to them, what treatments they're going to be offered, and what treatments they're going to use that, not surprisingly, things go better in those situations,” said Dr. Corey Mackenzie, Principal Investigator. “So then the question is: what gets in the way of people feeling engaged in the process?”

The study explores patient, geriatric mental health specialist, and referral source perspectives as to how the referral process could be improved and identifies opportunities to engage referred patients. Participants are being recruited from Victoria Hospital and St. Boniface Hospital.

Dr. Mackenzie anticipates this research will help point them in the direction of interventions and other efforts that can feasibly be implemented and maintained in order to improve care for the growing number of older adults experiencing these common mental health disorders in Manitoba and beyond.

“This is not an issue that’s specific to Manitoba in any way,” said Dr. Mackenzie, who plans to publish the findings in national or international academic journals when the research is complete in early 2023. “This is an issue that relates to anyone working within systems that bump up against challenges to help people feel engaged in the process of getting the care they need.”

Dr. Mackenzie emphasizes the role donors in this research cannot be overstated.

“The generous support of the donors to allow us to do the kind of work that we do is absolutely critical,” said Dr. Mackenzie. “We have this really nice marriage of frontline workers, clinicians who are seeing the issues that are of importance to our clients, and clients who are speaking to us and giving their views. And then we have these incredible, generous donors who are making all of this possible. Our intention is to make sure that the work that we do does what the donors hope it's going to do, which is to improve patient care at Victoria Hospital and also more broadly.”

While much of Dr. Mackenzie’s work focuses on the challenges of mental health and aging, he is careful not to lose sight of the positive.

“There’s this important message that I always try to make clear, which is that in general mental health tends to improve across the adult lifespan,” said Dr. Mackenzie. “There’s this real positive message around aging as a good thing with respect to mental health. Of course, there are still going to be challenges as not everyone experiences these improvements in mental health, so that’s where these efforts to provide additional supports and treatments come in.”