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Healthy IDEAS evaluates depression risk, connects older adults to resources

Alicia Colombo

Depression is a serious mental health condition at any age. But older adults are at great risk for depression and less likely to be correctly diagnosed or properly treated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affects far more older adults who receive home care (13.5%) and are hospitalized (11.5%) than those living independently in the community (1% to 5%). Depression is more prevalent in older adults with a chronic illness or limited physical functioning, yet it is often missed by health care providers who view an individual’s behaviors as a natural reaction to their diagnosis or current situation.

“It’s important that we understand that depression is not inherent in aging,” says Katrina Kyle, Health & Wellness Statewide Coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. “However, the problems that lead to depression are only compounded by the pandemic.”

To increase awareness, detection, and management of depression symptoms in older adults, Kyle led Pennsylvania to become the first state to independently train and administer the Healthy IDEAS (Identify Depression and Empowering Activities for Seniors) Program. Developed by Baylor College of Medicine’s Huffington Center on Aging and sponsored by the National Council on Aging, Healthy IDEAS is an evidence-based program that aims to heighten awareness about depression in older adults and provide resources for depression management.

A pilot program was launched in 2020, during the height of COVID-19. Kyle explains that the pandemic increased social isolation, which can be a contributing factor to depression in older adults.

“Social isolation was a major issue before the pandemic,” Kyle says. “And the best way to address that was looking at not where older adults could go, but [rather] who could come to them.”

In the fall of 2020, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) collaborated with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging to take part in the pilot rollout of Healthy IDEAS among Pennsylvania’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs). AAAs deliver vital services, including long-term care management, to older adults throughout the nation. A team of PCA’s long-term care managers attended training that included learning and discussing depression screenings, interventions and education.

“Healthy IDEAS trains staff to identify individuals that have depression,” says Sean Outen, director of PCA’s Long Term Care OPTIONS Program. “Once individuals are identified, they can participate in the program that connects them with both resources and activities.”

For older adults with depression symptoms, the program typically lasts three to six months and focuses on providing short-term intervention so that participants can better manage the symptoms of depression. This is accomplished in steps, beginning with a screening and assessment.

Education about treatment options includes engaging participants in behavioral activation, an approach to manage depression symptoms by combating inactivity. Participants also receive referral and connection to mental health services. PCA’s long-term care managers are able to link Healthy IDEAS participants with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual disAbility Services and Community Behavioral Health.

Since Healthy IDEAS was implemented at PCA, Outen says care managers have identified several individuals for the program through screening using Columbia University’s Patient Health Questionnaire – 9 (PHQ-9).

“It was needed during the pandemic, because individuals couldn’t go out to senior centers to participate in activities and were homebound.” Outen says. “It’s good that they were [still] able to get the help they needed.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging recently received more than $270,000 in additional grant funding from the Administration of Community Living (ACL), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to expand Healthy IDEAS within Pennsylvania’s AAAs. At this time, PCA is among eight Pennsylvania AAAs participating in the Healthy IDEAS program.

Kyle hopes to see that number grow as the additional grant funding will allow for more training and resources for implementation over the next three years.

Categories: Mental health Milestones eNews News about PCA


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