"Old age ain't no place for sissies." Bette Davis is credited with saying it first. But few people understand the deeper darknesses that face aging seniors -- and how to help navigate them -- better than Lynn Doyle, who joined Unity Psychiatric Care-Specialty Hospitals for Seniors in January, bringing 40-plus years of experience in the behavioral health field to her new role as administrator.
Perhaps best known for her 30 years at Delta Medical, where she recently served as Executive Director of Business Development and Marketing, she credits Delta for the rich experience she acquired while holding multiple positions that allowed her to explore new areas and hone emerging skills. After opening and helping to manage Delta's mental health unit, she discovered a special affinity for working with seniors.
"Despite the fact that the seniors that I worked with had psychiatric issues," Doyle said, "their wisdom was so sage, and I learned so much from them, that I think my love for senior adults started at that point."
It's one reason she joined Unity's team, with its senior psychiatric focus. But her concern for seniors and the issues they face doesn't stop at her office door. She serves as chairman of the board for Alzheimer's & Dementia Services of Memphis, past president and board member of Creative Aging, and past president and board member for the Professional Network on Aging. She also hosts a talk show on WYPL and contributes her experience to WKNO's "Best Times" series.
Her dedication, in fact, is responsible for one of her proudest accomplishments: earning the 2018 Senior Advocacy Award from the Professional Network on Aging. "To get that award from my peers was probably one of the biggest happenings in my life," she said.
Doyle points to unnerving statistics comparing death rates from heart disease to deaths from Alzheimer's. Between 2000 and 2015, heart disease deaths decreased 11 percent while Alzheimer's deaths increased 123 percent, with 1 in 3 seniors dying from Alzheimer's or other dementia.
"It is definitely on the increase, partly because we have better reporting than we used to, but also because we're living longer," she said. "Had they lived longer than their 60s, probably more people in the past would have had dementia."
Unity's focus on senior mental health reflects a trend we can expect to continue, she predicts, as the adult population grows older and larger. Previously accustomed to a 120-bed psychiatric unit, she appreciates the more intimate feel of Unity's 16-bed Memphis facility, which enables its "really good team of energized and engaged employees to interact with patients all day long, and have some very personal time with them. Our primary goal is giving patients the very best care, and getting them back to where they need to be." People need to feel a sense of warmth, comfort and safety when they go into a facility, she added. "We continue to elevate that profile."
All behavioral health facilities "are looking deep into the face of senior care," she said. "The senior years are not as golden as we've been led to believe. We may be living longer, but we're not necessarily living well."
As people age, they lose more loved ones, peers and friends -- increasing the pain of loss. Because aging seniors deal with increasing health issues and often increased financial stresses, some dread becoming a burden to their families. Feeling betrayed by their own bodies, sometimes reduced to living from check to check, they contribute to a rising rate of senior suicides that is larger than most people realize, Doyle reports.
She worries that many families are largely unprepared to deal with the needs of aging, and the situation is rapidly becoming critical.
"We are an as-needed society," she said. "We only look at things as we need them." She points to Seniorcare.com statistics that claim only a third of Americans think they will need long-term care, while two-thirds actually will.
"I think in the future you're going to see a waiting list at every place that treats behavioral health," she said. "I just hope we'll have enough beds in this city to be able to treat everybody and treat well.
"For seniors (and families) it's just imperative that we get them the resources that they need -- and that they begin to make decisions regarding long-term care. Because most of us just don't look at that until we have to. And we are so emotionally distraught at that point that it's hard to make a decision."
The good news? Seniors are better equipped than ever to understand and utilize technology to research health issues and symptoms -- through Facebook, WebMD, etc. -- and identify health indicators to their doctors. FaceTime, Skype and other services enable better connections to distant family members, friends and peers. "Most people agree that peer support is important for all of us. We need to be with people our own age," she said. "It helps people live longer, more productive lives if they can be connected with family and friends."
A wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, new grandmother and new administrator, Doyle is committed to her personal goal: "to make all those roles fit together so that I'm giving each one of them the right amount of time and energy and love."
In her leisure time, she enjoys reading escapist fiction and pursuing the volunteerism that she finds so energizing. "I love what I'm doing; I want to continue to be a force in every opportunity in the senior community -- to love them and to lift them up."
She and her husband, John Doyle, Executive Director of the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, are also experienced global travelers who have enjoyed visits to many European countries.
"Meet as many people in this field as you can," she advises. "Take advantage of every bit of their wisdom and vision to create your own path. If you're going to treat seniors, learn as much as you can from them. Ask questions, discover the greatest times in their lives; they can still teach you so much!"