The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

October 7, 2013

Facing dementia, mental health issues locally

OSKALOOSA — Knowing what to do if you think an older loved one may need psychiatric care is critical.

Laurene Garvis, Director of Inpatient Geriatric Psychiatry at Mahaska Health Partnership, said letting families of older Iowans know her unit is available is key. She does so by contacting nursing homes, home health care agencies and others to let them know what MHP offers here in Oskaloosa. MHP’s unit is one with 8-beds treating patients over the age of 60.

It can be difficult for an older relative to accept the idea that they may be experiencing some form of dementia.

Garvis said this is especially true when they have a patient coming to them from their home. At times, these people have been living with their spouse, who is no longer able to care for them.

It’s not just about caring for the patient. A big part of what Inpatient Geriatric Psychiatry at MHP does is caring for the family of their patients, noted Garvis.

Through education, they provide support for families and care takers to let them know they’re doing the right thing, Garvis pointed out.

A social worker in the unit can help determine if a particular patient is able to return to their home, perhaps  with in-home care and more frequent visits to the individual’s physician, said Garvis. The social worker can also help with nursing home placement.

So, what is the most common psychiatric issue among older Iowans?

The most common ailment Garvis sees in her unit are those experiencing some form of dementia or cognitive impairment with behavioral disturbances.

Diagnosis is a large part of what must be done in Garvis’ department. At times, patients also have with them a mental health diagnosis such as bi-polar disorder, explained Garvis, noting that this is a kind of “co-diagnosis.”

There isn’t one definition of dementia, Garvis stressed. She said the wide range covered by dementia used to simply be labeled as Alzheimer’s disease.

“But, what they’ve found out over the years is that, depending on what portion of the brain or multiple portions of the brain are impacted, the dementia exhibits it’s symptoms in different ways.

So, for your typical Alzheimer’s patient, you might see a very slow, gradual decline in their cognitive function. For other types of dementia, such as vascular, you may see more of a stair-step decline.”

Garvis said her unit at MHP is one of only three in the state of Iowa that specializes in geriatrics. Patients admitted to this unit in Oskaloosa come from Mahaska County and all over Iowa, Garvis added.

If you have questions regarding an older loved one, contact Inpatient Geriatric Psychiatry at MHP at (641) 672-3277.

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