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Q&A with Michelle Birdwell, Elder Community Care* (ECC) Triage Coordinator at BayPath Elder Services.
CGMW: What is the most important thing for a Caregiver to keep in mind when caring for someone who has depression?
MB: In addition to learning the signs and developing a care plan, it is also essential to keep in mind what depression IS NOT. Depression is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. Depression does not discriminate based on age, background, or prior happiness/satisfaction with life. Depression is not a normal part of aging. Depression is not something you have to just live with. As frustrating as it can be to be a caregiver for someone with a mental illness, the person cannot just “snap out of it” and needs help to manage their symptoms.
CGMW: If it is clear that someone is likely to be depressed, what is the first thing a caregiver should do?
MB: Without professional mental health training, it is important the caregivers do not decide the best course of treatment. Encourage your loved one to seek counseling, engage in a support group or speak to their primary care physician about anti-depressants that can be taken with their other medications. A health proxy should facilitate this course of action if the individual is not able to do so for themselves.
The caregiver or elder should always ask the PCP how comfortable they are prescribing mental health medications. If the PCP has minimal experience, a geriatric psychiatrist is highly recommended as they are better versed in reactions between psychiatric medications and medical medications.
At home, the caregiver can increase time in the sun, minimize caffeine and sugar in the evening to support healthy sleep, provide healthy and nutritionally balanced meals, provide mental stimulation in the form of a conversation, looking at old photos, playing cards, or learning a new hobby.
CGMW: What options are available for someone who is homebound?
MB: Being homebound can greatly increase the chance of depression due to the isolation that occurs because of it. There are several programs that can provide in-home support:
United Way of Tri-County – Call2Talk – 508-532-2255
Call2Talk is a confidential mental health and emotional support call line that assists individuals and families through stressful times in their lives, helping the despondent and those who may be suicidal.
Elder Community Care – 508-573-7237
*Elder Community Care is a joint project of Advocates, Inc., United Way of Tri-County and BayPath Elder Services, Inc. and funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. ECC can provide:
If you have urgent concerns about an elder’s mental health, please call 911 or Advocates Psychiatric Emergency Services a 24 hour hotline to discuss your concerns at 508-872-3333.
This is the final part of our conversation. Check out earlier posts:
Part I: What does depression look like?