Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How Does Depression Wreck Your Life?

All too often stereotypes cast older persons as “grumpy.” Many people think that being down and depressed is normal in old age. Attention!
It is NOT a natural part of aging. 

Depression can happen to anyone at any age and is common among older adults and seniors. Some 15 out of 100 adults over the age of 65 suffer from depression in the US. Who are these older adults and why do so many of them suffering from depression? Studies show that the disorder affects people in nursing homes and hospitals in even greater numbers. Recognizing depression among old persons is not always easy. Depressed elders may find it difficult to describe their feelings. Many fear revealing their sadness since they may associate it with being “crazy” or lacking self-control. In the youth of today’s elders, they learned that depression often was associated with being “crazy” or weak-minded. Today, we know hat depression is a fully treatable medical or biological illness.

The Movie Grumpy Old Men

Aging, HIV and Depression
Experts have discovered a link between HIV-positive older adults and depression. To find out more about this development, I met up with Stephen Karpiak to talk about HIV positive older adults and seniors. A PhD, Karpiak joined ACRIA (AIDS Community Research of America) in 2002, as Assistant Director of Research. He served as primary investigator at the agency's new behavioral research effort, including conducting groundbreaking Research on Older Adults with HIV(ROAH) study. Earlier, he had worked for over 20 years at Columbia University's Medical School as a research scientist in neurobiology and immunology. Karpiak also started a Phoenix, Arizona, project to provide housing for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Karpiak has documented over 250 articles in scientific journals and books, and has been holding lectures all over the world.

 Dr. Karpiak

Karpiak told me that the ROAH goal focused on understanding the situation of those over the age of 50 who are living with HIV. ROAH sought answers to identify their psycho-social needs and determine how to support them most effectively to live longer, healthier and happier lives. ROAH assessed a 1,000-person cohort in New York City, examining a comprehensive array of issues, including health status, stigma, depression, social networks, spirituality, sexual behavior, and substance abuse.

ROAH showed that stigma, isolation and depression are the major problems for this group. The stigma against HIV/AIDS and is usually associated with homophobia, racism, ageism, etc.

ROAH demonstrated that by repressing the immune system, depression may render people more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Stress and depression have a harmful effect on cellular immunity, including those aspects of the immune system affected by HIV. Body cell mass depletion is associated with significant increase in fatigue, global distress and depressive symptoms, and reduced life satisfaction. Elevated symptoms of depression associated with a faster progression to AIDS and a higher risk of mortality.

Stigma often leads to isolation, depression and loneliness. Older HIV positive adults who are depressed are more likely to have financial problems, have fewer people to turn to for support, lack critical HIV-related information, live alone, have thoughts of suicide, and experience greater levels of stigma related to HIV and aging as compared to older adults who are not depressed. Depression may also stop persons from getting treated, avoiding doctor visits, social activities and other relationships. ROAH found that aging HIV-positive adults experience significant levels of depression, at a rate at least five times higher than the general New York City population.

Dr. Karpiak and Sanna Klemetti

I asked Dr. Karpiak what has or can be done about this situation. As a matter of fact, successful projects exist. One example is the MacArthur Foundation Model that expects participants to make one phone call every week to ask the HIV affected person how he/she is doing. The effect of this simple and effective program has been great. Another ACRIA project is The Go 4 Part Program, funded by Mac AIDS fund. It's a two day HIV – aging training program. Around 25 educators visit about two cities per year, to bring AIDS, health and aging organizations together to educate them about these issues. They also introduce ideas on how to reduce the problems. They usually invite one person from the meetings to New York to see the work carried out at ACRIA.

More about ROAH

Sanna Klemetti


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