April 24, 2008
Editor’s Note: MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities and brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue. This month’s column is presented by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. Jewish Family Service of MetroWest is a comprehensive social service agency, providing a full range of mental health support services on a non-sectarian basis to individuals of all ages and circumstances living in the MetroWest community.
Lee Dagger, LSW, and Liz Klapman, LSW
Jewish Family Service of MetroWest
Myth: It is often assumed that depression is a normal part of aging and that sadness is the inevitable result of loss and change.
The reality is depression is not a normal part of aging and is a treatable illness. The losses and changes associated with aging may result in temporary sadness, but feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that last more than two weeks is not normal or inevitable. At highest risk for depression are frail, homebound older adults.
Jewish Family Service of MetroWest has recognized that depression in older adults is an important mental health issue. JFS is working with the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services on a program called Healthy IDEAS, on identifying depression and empowering activities for seniors. Trained social workers screen for depression, provide education for prevention, link to medical professionals, and work with depressed older adults to make behavioral changes.
Myth: It is often assumed that the depressed older adult cannot do things they enjoy until they feel better and that nothing can be done to help.
Research shows there is a significant link between mood and activity. To stop the negative depressive cycle, it is necessary to encourage the older adult to engage in pleasurable activities and take action before they feel motivated. An 84-year-old JFS client realized he must “go through the motions” to help himself feel better. With Healthy IDEAS, behavioral goals are chosen by the older adult. This enables them to feel in control of improving their mood, while the social worker provides support and encouragement.
Myth: It is often assumed that older adults talk openly about their depression to medical professionals or family about how they are feeling and the depressive symptoms will be obvious.
The reality is that older adults often feel shame or embarrassment when they are unable to make themselves feel better. These feelings are exacerbated by the stigma that a person who feels depressed is crazy or out of control, when in fact depression is a treatable illness caused by many factors. Also, depressive symptoms are often experienced somatically by older adults who present with physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue.
It is important for the older adult to be assessed medically to rule out any medical problems. Poor nutrition can result in lethargy, as can cardiac problems and even a urinary tract infection can change behavior significantly. Once medical problems are considered, an anti-depressant may be prescribed to alleviate feelings of sadness. Today there are medications used specifically for older adults that work better and have fewer side effects.
The reality is, depression is treatable in older adults.
A 78-year-old JFS client remarked that she knows that she is depressed “but there is nothing that can be done.” Once on the right dose of medication, she worked with her social worker on behavioral goals. In a short time, after feeling better she was excited to “see her social worker’s face” to share the progress she made.
Jewish Family Service is committed to helping older adults who are experiencing or at risk for depression through screenings, education, and ongoing intervention. Healthy IDEAS is an evidence-based program that has been shown to significantly reduce the severity of depressive symptoms in older adults and last over time.
Depression does not have to be the reality of aging.
The staff of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest consists primarily of licensed clinical social work staff members who provide counseling and related support services on both an individual and group basis. A beneficiary agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, JFS is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Family and Children Agencies and is licensed by the State of New Jersey as a provider of outpatient mental health counseling. The agency accepts most managed care insurance plans and extends all services based on an ability to pay.
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions and help with community resources can contact Elderlink, a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink can be reached at 973-467-3300 X 511, or via e-mail.
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