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Posted: December 31, 2010

Getting Help for Elderly Depression and Dementia
Day Treatment Programs

When seniors become depressed, agitated, or show signs of dementia, it is often difficult to know what the best ways to keep them healthy and happy are. Before you consider long-term care as a solution, there are things you can do to keep your loved ones in their homes.

According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP), nearly 20% of those who are 55 years and older have mental disorders that are not part of normal aging. Some of the most common illnesses are anxiety, severe cognitive impairment and mood disorders.

Dr. Jeffery Lafferman, a psychiatrist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center in Baltimore and head of the hospital's partial hospitalization program and outpatient services, says that too often mental health illnesses are underreported. "As people age, their health needs become more complicated,” says Lafferman. “Medical problems, such as high blood pressure and arthritis, are common and can mask the emotional challenges that the elderly face, until it has reached a critical stage."

But there is help and hope available. One of the ways to keep an elderly loved one at home for as long as possible "when they are experiencing depression, dementia, agitation and other emotional challenges" is through day treatment programs.

Says Lafferman: "Some adult day services programs are specifically designed to help elders relearn how to again be a useful part of their communities. The programs have group and individual therapy sessions in a stimulating environment. In addition, participants can reminisce with people their own age, take part in activities designed to renew their enthusiasm for life and be in their own homes in the evening."

Many people do not understand that clinical depression and other mental illnesses are treatable, he adds. Some of the symptoms – regardless of age -- to look for are a change in personality, a decline in memory, isolation from friends and family, excessive feelings of guilt or hopelessness, frequent crying, sleep problems, unexplained physical illnesses, loss of function, changes in appetite, loss of interest in personal hygiene and irritability, and anxiety.

However, Lafferman advises, "Before you entrust your loved one to any program, try to visit to see with your own eyes what the program is like. Although your elderly loved one needs supervision, his or her dignity must be preserved. In addition, check to see if there are medical professionals on site, and if there are different therapies to engage them."

When a loved one is experiencing emotional issues, it can also affect the whole family, so giving caregivers a break during the day is also important, another benefit of the day treatment programs.

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