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Mental disorders shorten aged’s life expectancy

Older people with severe mental disorders live shorter lives, a recent study has revealed.

The research aimed to clarify whether older adults with a history of mental disorders die earlier than those without.

“We had anticipated that people with mental disorders who survive and reach older age would be at no greater risk of death than their peers,” lead author, psychiatrist and research director at The University of Western Australia’s Centre for Health and Ageing, professor Osvaldo Almeida, said. “Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

A past history of schizophrenia spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and alcohol use were all associated with increased mortality. “Life expectancy for people with history of a severe mental disorder who reach old age – age 65 plus – is decreased by about three years. The risk of death more than doubles over a period of 15 years,” Almeida said.

He said people with a history of severe mental disorder seem to embrace lifestyles that are more conducive to harm, such as smoking, being physically inactive and using licit and illicit drugs.

“Their access to health services is also worse than that of the general population, and their management of medical morbidities is suboptimal,” Almeida says. “We must address those factors if we wish to increase survival, free of disability, of this community group.” With 90 per cent of older adults visiting their GP at least once a year, health professionals have the opportunity to intervene.

“It is imperative that we do all we can to seize this opportunity by educating not only patients but also health professionals on how to manage the common risk factors and medical morbidities of older adults with a history of mental disorders,” Almeida said. “Intervening, even at this late stage in life, would make a marked difference to the quality of life of these people and would decrease the long-term costs associated with their medical care.”

The results of the study are limited to men, as the data was compiled from The Health in Men Study, involving about 38,000 participants, but Almeida said similar studies indicated that the life expectancy of women with severe mental disorders was similarly reduced.

The study, “Mortality among People with Severe Mental Disorders Who Reach Old Age: A Longitudinal Study of a Community-Representative Sample of 37892 Men”, was published in PLOS ONE.

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