Karen Abowd: Mental health services for aging integral to healthy community

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Editor’s note: The Nevada Appeal presented the Carson City Board of Supervisors, the mayor and city manager an opportunity for a column. Supervisor Lori Bagwell will appear next Sunday:

My first brush with senior mental health issues came years ago when the answer to my mom’s erratic behavior was the devastating diagnosis of dementia. The emotionally daunting task of finding a facility in town where my mom could reside with dignity and 24-hour, loving care proved difficult for myriad reasons: bed availability, environment, cost. The Arbors in Sparks became her respite for her last year. Fortunately, times have changed for the better in Carson City thanks to The Lodge Assisted Living and Memory Care Community, EmpRes Healthcare Management with two facilities and soon Prestige Care Inc.

Twenty percent of America’s seniors experience many mental health issues in addition to dementia. It’s important to know what prevention/treatment is available locally.

These issues often go undiagnosed because symptoms are confused with those linked to aging, making correct diagnosis difficult for doctors, families of the elderly, and the person affected. Dementia, depression, distress and suicide are most common, and Nevada’s elderly has the highest suicide rate, attributed to isolation from family and friends, loss of a spouse or friend, unexpected financial crisis, and struggle with chronic or terminal health problems.

The stigma and transportation issues of getting mental health treatment creates further problems both for seniors and veterans. Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) offers transportation services and companionship, and is in the process of obtaining two AmeriCorps Vistas to get veterans to needed services, including suicide prevention. Volunteers are trained to recognize symptoms of depression and direct seniors to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273- TALK(8255).

A grant to pay a driver was applied for by Carson City Senior Citizens Center and opportunities for a used bus to transport veterans are being explored. This would assist veterans receiving mental health services at the VA in Reno and in Minden.

Carson’s Nevada Health Centers received a grant to hire a licensed social worker to act on physician referrals for behavioral health services for seniors, said Lisa Dettling. The goal is to add three workers and provide behavioral health tele-medicine to better serve the rurals, as demand is out-pacing providers. Reno-based Mobile Outreach Safety Team (MOST) serves 13 counties including Carson City, Douglas, Churchill and Lyon. The early intervention and home bound resources prevent unnecessary hospitalization and deepening crisis, which often leads to violent encounters with family, other citizens or law enforcement. The outreach includes significant numbers in the 51-70-plus age group.

“Stigma for the geri-psych outreach makes establishing trust and rapport with clients of utmost importance,” said Bekah Bock, Carson Counseling and Supportive Services. Mental health workers’ expertise through repeated follow-ups with citizens, helps offset these concerns. Referrals come through sources including law enforcement agencies, Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, Mental Health Court and Veterans Resource Center. Behavioral Health Services’ Senior Pathways Program is a multi-disciplinary program for seniors experiencing acute decrease in daily functioning. Assessment is quick and precise, addressing myriad factors. Treatment is individualized and family focused. Outpatient services are offered at Carson Tahoe Specialty Medical Center; inpatient services at 1080 N. Minnesota St., Carson City.

Health insurance plans and Medicaid must cover mental health but, “low-functioning folks won’t ... apply for insurance to cover health conditions, let alone mental health,” said Marena Works, Senior Citizens Center director.

The center, which provides various activities is key to preventative and mental health for many, including an elderly man who lives in his van. Staying emotionally connected to others as well as receiving nutritional services through the center, has helped him immensely. Beginning July 1 a senior care navigator working with CTRH and discharge planners, will connect referrals to providers. Meals providing essential nutrients critical to mental health in the “golden years,” are served daily at the center or through Meals on Wheels.

Shirley, the smiling, cheerful woman at the front desk tells it best. She moved to Nevada after retiring from the aerospace industry, and soon realized sitting home dwelling on personal and health issues caused depression. Her job keeps her vital, active and mentally sharp.

Diet, exercise and connection are necessary for seniors’ wellness, and embracing their needs is essential to a healthy community.

Karen Abowd is Ward 1 Supervisor, she can be reached at KAbowd@carson.org or at 775-232-8626.


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