Growing numbers of the county's elderly suffer from depression, isolation and late-onset alcoholism, and better and more sophisticated services are needed to respond to their needs, according to a recent report by the Howard County Mental Health Authority.
The authority's report also found that more comprehensive mental health crisis services are needed, as are services for residents who have been diagnosed with more than one type of mental health problem.
The report is the first comprehensive mental health plan developed for Howard County since the Mental Health Authority was established in 1997.
It was presented to County Executive James N. Robey last week for his approval.
The Mental Health Authority is a quasi-public agency that plans, develops, manages and monitors publicly funded mental health services in the county. The authority answers to the county executive and the County Council, and pays mental health care providers and monitors their services.
More than 50 county agencies, mental health providers, consumers and family members were invited to a half-day brainstorming session in March to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the county's mental health system.
According to the report, the elderly population in Howard is expected to grow 150 percent from 1990 to 2010. Donna Wells, executive director of the authority, said services are needed for that burgeoning population.
"While this county generally has very good services for the elderly, we found that we need more elderly-friendly services related to mental health," Wells said. "It's possible that they may need treatment for the first time in their lives at an advanced age."
Wells said older residents may combine binge drinking and substance abuse (usually prescription medicines) to combat depression, despondency and loneliness. The report notes that late-onset alcoholism is a hidden disability among older Americans and that only one of Howard County's 10 senior centers has an Alcoholics Anonymous group.
Stigma surrounding such issues is a Health13B