Behavioral health is defined as the total well-being of one’s body, mind, and soul. To be healthy doesn’t just mean to be physically healthy; it also encapsulates mental and spiritual health and well-being. And symptoms of poor behavioral health can plague people at any age, particularly those 55 and older.

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How Does Behavioral Health Affect Seniors?

As people get older, they’ll begin to see natural signs of aging, such as losing muscle mass, lower bone density, and less skin elasticity. In addition, our organs can begin to fail and need to work harder to do the things they once did so effortlessly. These are all signs of physical aging that can be easily seen or diagnosed. On the other hand, declines in behavioral health are not a natural part of the aging process and issues often go under or undiagnosed, especially in the elderly.

As seniors age, they deal with the detrimental physical aspects of getting older, and their mental health can fall by the wayside. Mental health in older adults can quickly decline as they deal with changes to physical health, losing friends, family, spouses, and significant life changes such as moving into a nursing home or assisted living. These reasons are why behavioral health programs for seniors should be made much more of a priority in their daily medical care.

Beneficial Senior Behavioral Health Programs

Some community-based programs have been developed to finally address the symptoms of depression, substance abuse, and other behavioral health issues that plague older adults. No longer do seniors need to worry about their mental health being ignored or simply undiagnosed as they attempt to cope with the changes associated with getting older. These behavioral health programs can be implemented within care programs in a nursing home or senior living community to help those dealing with these issues. Here are some of the best evidence-based programs for senior behavioral health.

Healthy IDEAS

Healthy IDEAS is an acronym that stands for Identifying Depression & Empowering Activities for Seniors. This program was developed by the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine and received sponsorship and funding to continue extensive evaluations. Eventually, this program was implemented within the mental and behavioral health community for older adults via Care for Elders.

Now, the Healthy IDEAS program has been integrated into 26 states (and counting), helping case managers provide help and awareness to elder communities whose mental health care has been blatantly underserved. Some positive outcomes participants have seen since implementing IDEAS into their programs include:

  • An overall reduction in the severity of depression and behavioral health issues.
  • More knowledge regarding how to reduce depression symptoms.
  • Lower rates of disability associated with depression and chronic diseases.
  • Easier access to screening, assessment, and referrals for mental health care in elderly patients.
  • Improvements in quality of life for patients and their family members.

Florida BRITE Project

The Florida BRITE Project helps identify non-dependent substance or prescription use in people 55 years and older and gives them resources to tackle those issues before becoming dependent. BRITE stands for BRief Intervention and Treatment for Elders. It was the only project funded by the SBIRT (Screening, Brief I intervention, and Referral to Treatment) to focus strictly on people in the older population.

Paired with deteriorating physical and mental health, the elderly population can easily fall into a lifestyle dependent on substances. They may be in physical pain, mental pain, or a combination of both. Without proper monitoring, education, and medication management, the elderly can require more extensive treatments to deal with their dependence.

Luckily, BRITE can quickly identify those individuals both inside and outside of senior living situations and offer legitimate resources and education to those individuals dealing with non-dependent substance issues. They focus on reducing risky behavior, prescription medication management, and education regarding the harm associated with substance use and abuse.


Lastly, this evidence-based program focuses on late-life depression and provides quality care for individuals facing a decline in behavioral health in their later years. The Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives (PEARLS) targets older adults with depression and helps educate and provide support to reduce symptoms of depression and improve their overall quality of life.

The PEARLS program is a series of sessions that can be easily administered to participants without additional training or certifications. Any case manager or support team can use PEARLS to educate and support their older adults coping with depression and mental health. Participants don’t even need to be clinically diagnosed with depression to benefit from and use the tools given to them via PEARLS. The community-based organizations and the older adults utilizing the program can benefit from its team-based approach, the empowerment it gives them, and overall improved quality of life.

These programs paired with on-site services are essential to providing older adults with well-rounded care in their senior living communities, assisted living, or nursing homes. Their physical health and mental health should tie all into one comprehensive treatment. If you’re part of an organization looking for resources on any of these programs, see below. And for more information regarding supporting loved ones who need a senior living community focused on mental health care, contact Sunflower communities today.

a young doctor discussing behavioral health programs with an elderly patient


Healthy IDEAS


BRITE Project