Often referred to as the golden years, life after retirement can sometimes turn out to be less than sunny.
Dramatic lifestyle changes such as admittance to an assisted care facility and loss of mobility or independence can take a toll on mental health.
In fact, twenty percent of people over 55 suffer from a mental disorder, and two-thirds of nursing home residents exhibit mental and behavioral problems.
As a geriatric psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, Jennifer Gatchel MD, PhD, works with adults ages 60 and over to help them cope with life’s transitions.
For many of her patients, symptoms of mental illness are often compounded by symptoms that indicate the onset of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
“These are conditions I see every day in my practice that I find highly compelling,” says Gatchel. “Could psychiatric symptoms in older adults be driven in part by Alzheimer’s disease pathology and proteins impacting brain circuitry? If so, it would represent an important shift in the way we think about treating older adults presenting with these symptoms.”
Gatchel is using a combination of neuroimaging, cognitive testing, clinical assessments, and her ongoing interactions with patients to inform her research on the relationships between mood and anxiety symptoms and dementia.
She ultimately hopes to improve care and brain health for older patients and help them make the most of their golden years.
Gatchel uses positron-emission tomography (PET) neuroimaging to visualize amyloid and tau, the two proteins thought to be the core pathological drivers of Alzheimer’s disease, in living older adults.