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Let There Be Light

By Erika Hoffman, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 5)

“Just Do It!” admonishes the Nike ad.  “God helps those who help themselves” goes the old saw.  “Carpe diem” is a philosophy everyone needs to buy into, including the depressed elderly.

Of course, depression can strike any age group, any ethnic category, and any social–economic strata, but there is a multitude of reasons why the elderly are disproportionately afflicted nowadays.

No doubt exists that a family history of the disorder predisposes some elderly to the disease. Yet, without that genetic tie, the elderly can still be candidates for depression due to several other factors: widowhood, social seclusion, other diseases, interaction of medications, a negative perception of body image, fear of dying, chronic pain, and self-medication with alcohol or drugs.

Because of outdated stigmas, misguided notions of family members, or treatment expense, many seniors suffer their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness in silence. They resign themselves to being blue and don’t seek medical intervention.

The sad shame of this situation is that proven medical help is available for the elderly. Screening devices easily administered in a variety of medical offices, even optometrist offices, can identify quickly, painlessly, and effortlessly those in need of anti–depressants. Once the diagnosis is determined, a caregiver can ensure follow-up treatment.

There is “light” at the end of the tunnel in Baltimore! Project LIGHT was created at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland to screen the elderly for depression. LIGHT is an acronym for a four step process. First, the patient Learns about depression; the patient is Inspired to seek help; the patient is Given Hope; and the last step is Treatment.

In this program, a psychiatric registered nurse visits primary care physicians where she conducts tests for depression on site. Therefore, patients and their caregivers need not make separate trips to psychiatric offices. Their emotional status can be quickly assessed in the comfortable and familiar setting of their family doctor’s office.

Ms. Poklemba, a clinical nurse specialist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, realizes that building relations with primary care physicians to help screen for depression in elderly patients can significantly reduce patients’ risk for suicide. She cited the alarming statistic that 20 percent of all suicide deaths are in people over 65. Unfortunately, those folks rarely exhibit any outward sign of their intentions.


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