Improving Quality of life for Senior Adults May 30, 2007

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Sixty-seven-year-old Central Texan Herbert Wilson had been struggling with long term depression for more than 12 years until he entered group therapy as part of an outpatient program for senior adults. "For me the program literally saved my life. I was sick of being sick. It gave me a reason to want to stay alive because they gave me the tools to help me to know what to do and how to do it when I was down," says Herbert.

"Many people believe depression is a natural part of getting older, but that's simply not true," says Betty Harris, clinical manager for the Seton Shoal Creek Senior Adult Generations Program. "Seniors often are going through major life changes that could upset emotional balance in anybody. If individuals, caregivers or family members notice a senior with the standard symptoms of depression, they should know that help is available for that person."

Older Americans often suffer from stress associated with retirement, loss of health, loss of independence, role changes in connection with their children, moving out of a long term home situation and the most important one - deaths of spouses and friends. The result can be loneliness, isolation and sadness. Like others suffering from depression, they may exhibit at least some of the following symptoms:

  • Agitation, irritability or demanding behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced energy, fatigue, vague or unexplained physical complaints
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in usual activities, social withdrawal
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lack of attention to grooming, self-care
  • Lack of self worth
  • Sadness, feelings of hopelessness
  • Prolonged grief after a loss
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Confusion, delusions or hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Herbert joined the Generations Program at Shoal Creek Hospital to combat depression. "My doctor wanted me to be part of an intense outpatient program. I thought I was the only one going through this until I met other people with the same issues," he adds.

The Generations Program provides individualized treatment for seniors 55 or older who suffer from psychiatric, emotional or behavioral disorders. For more than a year-and-a-half, Herbert worked with a dedicated team of licensed professionals including a psychiatrist, a registered nurse, therapists and mental health technicians to help him cope with his illness.

"We see people come in who have been suffering from depression for a very long time. We were able to help Mr. Wilson change the way he thought about himself and his life. The team and I, in close coordination with his personal psychiatrist, were able to help get him on the right track," says Jefferson Nelson, MD, a psychiatrist who practices at Seton Shoal Creek. "By changing his coping skills, helping him to expand his interests, promoting independence and providing care and support, I think we were able to restore some vitality to his life."

The Generations Program is designed to meet the unique needs of senior adults. It consists of half-day group therapy and lunch for those who need it. Referrals can be made by physicians, but also by family members, pastors, social workers and therapists.

"We keep our groups small," continues Betty. "No more than eight people participate at a time. We have three 45-minute groups daily along with breaks and lunch. Many times, good nutrition is a challenge for seniors and we know they are getting at least one nutritious meal. We monitor vital signs, including blood pressure, weight gain or loss and pain. We work closely with a patient's family physician if needed, make referrals for home health care or assist those struggling with pain."

The group teaches coping skills, such as building interpersonal relationships, managing grief and loss, stress management, assertiveness training and addiction management, if needed.

"Our goal is to introduce them to a purpose-driven life," says Betty. "It amazes me how many people come to the program with false ideas that they may have carried with them all their lives. Some need help with marital conflict or resolution from long-ago childhood abuse issues. Many have grief and loss issues or may have a history of depression or other mental disorders. We help them reduce their isolation and depression, get out more, learn about self care through diet and nutrition counseling and arrange for medication management, if needed."

Herbert attests to the benefit. "I am doing so much better. I feel so much better. And I am going to find a way to give back to the Program which has done so much for me. Now I am ready to help others who have been through what I've been through," said Wilson.

Generations Program Outreach

Referrals to the Generations Program can be made by physicians, healthcare professionals, human service agencies, clergy and/or concerned family members or friends. Betty Harris will provide a clinical evaluation at no cost to determine the need for treatment. She will also visit hospitalized patients, if requested.

Since transportation often is a challenge for seniors, free round-trip transportation can be arranged within a 30-mile radius of Seton Shoal Creek. The Generations Program also works closely with area assisted living facilities and nursing homes. To join the program, participants must have Medicare as their primary insurance. Most private insurance plans are accepted for secondary coverage.

The Senior Adult Generations Programs hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, please call (512) 324-2068.

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