Collaborative Letter to Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Supporting the Inclusion of the Positive Aging Act Language in the Bill to Reauthorize the Older Americans Act

June 14, 2006

The Honorable Mike DeWine, Chairman
The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Retirement Security and Aging
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510                                    

Dear Chairman DeWine and Senator Mikulski:

As organizations committed to issues of aging and mental health, we are writing to urge you to support the inclusion of vital mental health provisions of the Positive Aging Act (S. 1116) in the bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act. 

Today, an estimated 20% of older adults in the U.S. experience a mental health problem that is not a normal part of aging.  The most common mental health disorders among older adults are anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment.  These disorders can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health, often leading to increased illness, disability, and mortality.  In fact, older adults currently have the highest rates of suicide of any age group in the U.S., and depression is its foremost risk factor.  Research indicates that up to 75% of older adults who die by suicide have visited a primary care physician within a month of taking their own life.  Knowledge about how to diagnose and effectively treat mental disorders is simply not reaching our front-line health care professionals. 

These missed opportunities to diagnose and treat mental health disorders are taking a significant toll on older adults and increasing the burden on families, caregivers, and our health care system.  In order to ensure that our seniors do not continue to fall through the cracks, we urge you to include vital mental health provisions of the Positive Aging Act in the bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act. 

The Positive Aging Act amendments to the Older Americans Act would take important steps toward addressing the mental health needs of older Americans by designating an Office of Older Adult Mental Health Services in the Administration on Aging, which would provide grants to states for the development and operation of systems for providing mental health screening and treatment services to older individuals who lack access to such services.

As you complete the Senate version of the bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, we urge you to make the mental health of older Americans a priority by including the provisions of the Positive Aging Act.