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How Integrated Health Care Benefits You as You Get Older

Smiling older woman chatting with doctor

By Deborah DiGilio, MPH (Director, APA Office on Aging) and Toni Vincent (Graduate Health Communication Intern, APA Center for Psychology and Health)

With recent changes in healthcare you may be hearing new terms that you may be unfamiliar with. “Patient-centered medical home”, “health care team”, and “care coordination,” all describe a new way of providing health care called integrated health care. In integrated health care a team of health professionals work with you to address both your physical and mental health needs.

Perhaps you are wondering why both? Many people don’t realize that our mental health affects our physical wellbeing and vice versa. For example, anxiety is related to decline in memory performance and untreated depression can worsen heart disease. Also, older adults with multiple health problems are at increased risk for depression compared to those in good health.

How does integrated care benefit older adults?

Often as you age, your health care needs become more complicated and you may start to see a greater number of health providers. Not only might you have a primary care physician but you may have a heart doctor, an eye doctor, and a physical therapist to name a few. Coordinating care for multiple conditions with multiple providers at multiple locations can be overwhelming. It usually involves traveling to different offices, repeating or relaying information from each appointment during other appointments, and keeping track of multiple medicines and who prescribed them. Integrated health care means that you can focus less on these issues and more on your health. This is because integrated health care teams are often in one place, or are communicating with each other through an electronic patient record that they can share.

How does having a psychologist as a member of the integrated health care team help?

Psychologists can ensure that the team addresses both your mental and physical health needs. They coordinate your care so that we can enjoy a good quality of life at any age. A psychologist can help identify changes in memory and determine if they are associated with normal aging or if it is a change that requires further assessment. A psychologist can also help you adopt healthy behaviors in your everyday life that are important if you are diagnosed with chronic health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes. Perhaps you may have trouble taking your medication as prescribed or eating a proper diet or exercising regularly is a challenge for you – a psychologist can help with that. In addition, working with a psychologist may lessen the need for medication to manage physical health problems. And, treatment of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or caregiver burnout can result in better physical health. Finally, some older adults feel embarrassed about others knowing they are seeking help for mental health problems. Seeing a psychologist in the same facility as your physician can decrease these concerns.

Tips for coordinating your own care 

Just like all change, integrated care may take some time to reach your community. However, until then, follow these tips to take an active role in integrating your own care and that of your family members:

  1. Provide the names of all your health care providers and their phone numbers to each of your providers.

  2. Let your primary care provider know about any psychological, emotional, or mental health concerns. For example, if you have been feeling low, nervous, or forgetting things, let your medical doctor know.

  3. If you already work with a psychologist, ask your medical doctors and psychologist to communicate and work together to carefully review and address your problems.

  4. Ask for a list of your medications from each of your providers. Share this list with all members of your health care team. Sometimes the medicines or their combination can cause a problem.

So, in summary, how does integrated health care benefit your health as you age?

It leads to:

  1. Your physical and mental health needs being addressed,

  2. Better collaboration between your health providers, and

  3. Less stress navigating the complicated health care system.

If you would like to learn more about aging and health, this information might be of interest to you:

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