Helping Homebound Older Adults with Moderate to Severe Depression Subject of New University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work Study

July 9, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — A University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work researcher has received a $680,000 National Institute of Mental Health award to study the feasibility of a telehealth problem-solving treatment (PST) for homebound older individuals suffering from depression.

The short-term structured PST focuses on teaching and strengthening problem-solving coping skills for older adults in the Austin area.

"An easy access to low-cost videoconferencing tools is providing health providers the potential to meet the needs of this underserved population," said Dr. Namkee Choi, a gerontologist who specializes in late life depression research. "With the current and projected shortage in mental health workforce to meet the needs of an increasing number of homebound older adults, we need to test the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of depression treatment via videoconferencing."

Choi found that 17.3 percent of 762 homebound older adults who were screened for depression by the case managers of the Meals on Wheels and More program in Austin had clinically significant depressive symptoms and 8.4 percent of them had probable major depressive disorder.

"These rates are significantly higher than those among older adults in general," Choi said. "However, only a few depressed homebound older adults reported that they received any psychotherapy."

Social isolation imposed by chronic illness and functional limitations makes homebound individuals more vulnerable to depression than their mobility-unimpaired peers, Choi said. Their homebound state is a barrier to their receiving appropriate depression treatment.

The study will compare three groups of participants 50 years old and over totaling 100 for the next two years: those participating in telehealth PST (tele-PST), those participating in traditional in-person PST and those who will receive telephone support and monitoring. Tele-PST will be conducted through video calls initiated by the project's two therapists.

"The approach is likely to allow the therapist and the client most of the benefits of in-person sessions," said Choi. Both tele-PST and in-person PST will be provided by two licensed master's-level social workers, Mary Lynn Marinucci and Leslie Sirrianni.

Choi's collaborators for the project include geriatric depression researchers from Cornell Weil Medical School, Dartmouth Medical School, Baylor Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Dr. Martita Lopez of the Department of Psychology also is a consultant.
The Austin community partners for the project are the Meals on Wheels and More, Family Eldercare, Helping the Aging, Needy and Disabled, the Capital Area Agency on Aging and the St. David's Community Health Foundation.

For more information, contact: Nancy Neff; Dr. Namkee Choi, 512-232-9590.

7 Comments to "Helping Homebound Older Adults with Moderate to Severe Depression Subject of New University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work Study"

1.  Michael A. Bartlett said on July 16, 2009

My doctor thinks I may experience moderate depression, however I am physically active enough to provide some participation in "Meals on Wheels."
Michael A. Bartlett
Briarcliff, Texas

2.  lilita olano said on July 16, 2009

I am so thrilled to hear you are focusing on the needs of these elderly people. If it were to become available in Houston, please let me know. There is such a need for this assistance.
Thank you for this worthwhile project.
Lilita Olano
Professor, Houston Baptist University

3.  jas.p. foster said on July 16, 2009

Excellent idea. I'm restricted physically by a pinched nerve in my spinal cord and recently lost my wife to cancer after 47 years of happiness. I live alone in my home and get very bored and depressed at times from lack of activity and companionship. JPF, 74 years old.

4.  kay charnes said on July 19, 2009

Sounds interesting. Keep me informed of the results. I am 86, live alone and am doing well.

5.  Anita McClendon said on July 19, 2009

Hi Namkee:
I'm so excited to hear about this study. We're trying to strengthen our behavioral health services at Center for Elders Indpendence, a PACE program in the San Francisco east bay. Please let me know if you're ever in the bay area. I'd love to show you what we're doing.
Best wishes,
Anita McClendon, MSW
(UTSSW 2002)

6.  zohra abbas said on July 26, 2009

I would like to help in any way I can in this research. I take care of an elderly lady. She is mildly depressed because of her very limited mobility. I have studied psychology courses, and I graduated in chemistry and zoology.

7.  Sherre T. Lieder, LMSW said on Sept. 2, 2009

Wonderful idea. I hope I can find a way to stay plugged in to the research and perhaps piggyback. Sometimes great research ideas take on a life of their own and "never die." Looking forward to frequent updates. SLieder, Minnesota and Arizona