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Summary: Guidelines for Comprehensive Mental Health Services for Older Adults in Canada


Mental health and well-being are as important in older age as in other times of life. That is one reason the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) created Guidelines for Comprehensive Mental Health Services for Older Adults in Canada. The Guidelines provide best advice for those who plan, develop, and deliver mental health care (and related) services to meet the distinct needs of older adults. Since these needs will continue to grow as our population ages over the coming decades, the Guidelines offer recommendations for a more integrated system to support the well-being, quality of life, and recovery journey of older adults, across a range of mental health and addiction-related problems and illnesses.

Defining older adults

Canada’s older adult population, which is usually defined as adults over the age of 60 or 65, is very diverse. The age needs of the younger cohort of seniors (60 to 75) can be very different than those over the age of 85. It is also important to recognize that some individuals age prematurely due to complex, multiple, and chronic health problems or socio-economic circumstances. In addition, age-related needs and preferences are influenced by varied cultural and historical contexts, which require distinct considerations for Indigenous peoples, populations with minority language status, and members of 2sLGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, ethnocultural, and racialized communities.

Mental health and addiction-related problems affecting older adults

For the purposes of the Guidelines, these problems include:

  • those that occur for the first time, such as mood, anxiety, or substance use disorders
  • those that occur among people living with recurrent, persistent or chronic mental illnesses or substance use disorders but which have new age-related complications
  • behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementias, including Alzheimer’s and other neurocognitive disorders
  • those that occur with other medical conditions with known correlations to mental illness such as Parkinson’s disease (with cerebrovascular or chronic lung disease)

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Understanding the issue While people ages 65 and older make up about 20% of Canada’s population (a significant yet growing portion), there is limited data on how many are at...