Mental health resources for older persons in the Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organization


Professor Carlos Augusto de Mendonça Lima, MD, DSci, Rua Aiuru 63/101, Humaitá, Rio de Janeiro-RJ, BR 22261-110, Brazil. Email:


Background:  The Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) contains 27% of the world population and 29% of the world population of elderly people: it is the oldest among the six WHO regions. The demographic transition (from high child mortality and low life expectancy to a low child mortality and high life expectancy) is happening at high speed and this proportion of the world's elderly population is expected to increase significantly in the coming years. Consequently, there is a high risk that the number of older persons with mental disorders will significantly increase. To better understand the organization of care for older persons, data is being collected to reduce the imbalance between ‘disease information’ and ‘resource information’—information that addresses older persons' needs in terms of mental health care. This article presents some results for this region.

Method:  Data were essentially collected from the World Health Report 2005. The data concerning NGOs was obtained at the websites of the World Psychiatric Association, the World Federation of Neurology, the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics and Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI).

Results:  Because the mental health problems of older adults is still not a public health priority, the careful examination of individual countries nevertheless reveals certain specificities, such as divergent life expectancy or different values regarding aging. The authors present some recommendations for the development of care for elderly persons with mental disorders in the region based on the general recommendations made by WHO in the World Health Report 2001 (WHR 2001) and by WHO and the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) in some consensus statements on Psychiatry of the Elderly.

Conclusion:  The Western Pacific WHO region has a high proportion of older persons in its population (11.2% of total population), with important differences between the countries in life expectancy at birth. Strong cultural forces and migration may affect the growing and aging processes. Local poverty, with all the consequences it may have for health, may also be an important factor negatively influencing quality of life and life expectancy at birth. Mental health for all ages should become a priority issue in the public agenda in the region. National governments should make efforts to promote mental health and provide care for elderly persons with mental disorders, depending on local resources and cultures. As mental disorders in old age can represent a severe limitation on quality of life for older persons and their families good care should be extended to all concerned. The challenge of finding solutions for better living conditions for older people with mental health problems lies in the hands of researchers, policy makers and the population. Funding and creativity are two factors necessary to find such solutions.