Generations program tackles depression in older adults


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist John Fisher and editor Rob Diaz

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 12:04 AM

Updated Monday, Dec 9 at 12:20 AM

AUSTIN -- Doctors say there are many things that can lead to depression in older adults: empty nest syndrome, having to leave home to go live with adult children, the death of a spouse, not being allowed to drive and more.

Yet, those same doctors say the illness remains under diagnosed and under-treated. A program at Seton Northwest Hospital is helping older patients realize they're not alone.

"I was really down and out, and I didn't know where I was going," said Larry McGonigal of Round Rock.

The 68-year-old McGonigal said he wants to put a face on depression in older adults.

"Last year, I was about ready to give up," he said.

About that time, he heard about the Generations Intensive Outpatient Program at Seton Northwest.

"Depression is the most treatable thing," said Debbie Kinsey, a clinical social worker. "It's not an inevitable outcome of getting old. It's one of the most treatable and common ailments of senior adults."

Kinsey conducts many of the talk therapy sessions. She said the biggest hurdle is getting older patients to realize depression is an illness, not a weakness.

"This generation was, 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,' but they sometimes need help," said Kinsey.

Another problem? Doctors say depression in older patients doesn't always present in the same way it does in a younger adult.

"The majority of their symptoms can be thought of as physical symptoms," said Eric Garcia-Pittman, M.D., the Medical Director of the Generations Intensive Outpatient Program. "Lack of sleep, not eating as well and not very much energy are all symptoms that can typically be seen in medical illnesses, so often it's under-diagnosed."

McGonigal said he and everyone in the group had their doubts when they first started. But his attitude changed when he realized the advantages of talking with people his own age, who have dealt with similar life situations and are now experiencing similar problems due to depression.  

"I found very quickly, within the first week, how open everyone else was who was already in the group," McGonigal said.

He said another advantage is the three-hour commitment five days a week.

"One thing in depression: it's very easy to stay in bed, hide in the closet and just get away from everything," said McGonigal.  "With this, you're supposed to be here at 9:30, otherwise you can't come."

"What we're able to do is change the way that they view and think about themselves, their environment, their world and have them get out of that depression or anxiety mind frame," said Garcia-Pittman.

McGonigal said he still takes medications and sees a psychiatrist once a month. However, he credited the Generations program for allowing him to see he's not the only one his age suffering from depression. He encouraged any older patient to give the program a try, especially men who, like him, may be more hesitant to admit they have a problem.

"I'm not going to go into a group and talk about my depression and my life and my background," he said. "Hey, forget it. If you want to get rid of depression, do it. Try this out."

For more information on the Seton Mind Institute’s Generations program at Seton Northwest Hospital, go here or call (512) 324-2039 or (877) 918-2039 to schedule an initial appointment with a counselor.

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