Telephoning to Treat Depression in Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities

Grandmother talking on phone Dobrila Vignjevic/E+/Getty Images

Elderly people who live in long-term care facilities are at a higher risk of depression and those who have mild dementia are more likely to be depressed. Since the pandemic began and social distancing became the devout practice it is today, depression and dementia have become even larger problems – especially among older adults living in long-term care facilities – due to isolation.

Elderly man sitting on bed looking serious. Dean Mitchell/E+/Getty Images

Not allowed to host visitors, these residents long for contact. Since the elderly are not as familiar with computers, phone conversations are more important than ever. But caregivers often struggle with how to have a meaningful phone conversation with someone who is suffering from dementia. Therapy for these individuals is key, however with over 200 long-term care facilities in Houston, there are just not enough therapists to go around.

Besides, the concept of going to a psychologist still holds some degree of stigma for this population of older adults. It can be inconvenient to acquire transportation to a therapist’s office. If our society is ever to move forward – toward a 2050 with nearly 88 million baby boomers who will have many of these same issues – we will need to combat the mental health workforce shortages, transportation barriers and prohibitive cost of this specialized kind of care.

Life Review (LR) is an evidence-based intervention delivered by clinicians in one to two-hour individual or group sessions over eight to 10 weeks, designed to reduce depression in older adults. Instead of a therapist initiating this work with residents of long-term care facilities, Christina Miyawaki, a researcher and assistant professor in the Graduate College of Social Work, is training family caregivers in LR skills. Essentially, one could learn to be a sort of therapist, drawing out stories of elderly family members who suffer from mild to moderate dementia.

“When a parent or grandparent starts to become forgetful, before you do anything else, you should have them tell you stories about their life,” said Miyawaki.

The phone calls the family members are trained to make, using the LR concept, gently draw out individuals’ stories. Many of these tales are from when they were children and teenagers. The most surprising and interesting thing Miyawaki has learned from this research is that long-term memories often come flooding back.

“Even if your family member exhibits a moderate stage of dementia, they often remember as far back as elementary school with vivid memories and lots of details. They smile while they talk about their life. They enjoy this activity and it helps to mitigate their depressive symptoms, while those who call their elderly family members weekly discover new information about their loved ones.”

Recording the sessions for other family members allows a larger group of family to hear their loved one’s legacy,” said Miyawaki.

If you would like to sign up for this research or learn about it, please read more here.

Category: Community Health

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