By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Marlborough – A diverse group of professionals, the Elder Community Collaborative (ECC), gathered at the Marlborough Hospital Oct. 19 to discuss the needs of the region's growing senior population.
The ECC was founded by Michele Ricard, MD, who was frustrated when patients she saw as an admitting physician at local hospitals did not have complete medical information readily handy. Her first project was an initiative to provide information sheets and then “Files of Life” for seniors so hospital personnel would have that critical data when they needed it. Over the years, there was a consensus among health-care professionals and others who worked with the elderly that there was need for them to network and share their resources. At the Oct. 21 meeting, a number of professionals were present including physicians, social service workers, clergy and assisted-living facility administrators.
Some of the issues discussed included transportation, loneliness, isolation and depression. All of these issues, the professionals agreed, were tied to the others.
On the issue of transportation, Tammy Pozerycki, the owner and director of Pleasantries Adult Day Services, said that many times the city's transportation system for seniors only provided buses and vans to accommodate medical appointments. As a result, the elderly missed out on attending programs at places like senior centers, especially in the winter months, because they could not get there.
“Every meeting I go to, transportation is the number-one issue,” she added.
The Reverend Linda Stetter of the First United Methodist Church in Marlborough agreed. As a member of the clergy who often sees up to 150 seniors a week, she said the “biggest problem I see is isolation and withdrawal.”
This was very true, she added, especially in the cases of spouses who are the primary caregiver for an ailing partner. All the attention is focused on the needs of the ill spouse, she said, leaving the non- ailing spouse feeling lonely, scared and depressed.
Clergy play a critical role in helping these people, she stressed.
“Many times seniors won's let strangers in or tell others their problems. But they will trust clergy because we are “safe.” We can then ease the way for others to come in,” she said. “This generation has a whole faith-based history.”
“A lot of the time their network has passed and they can's make a new one,” she added. “Technology is wonderful, but people-to-people to contact is important. You can's substitute that.”
The problem of loneliness was closely connected to another that affects many seniors – depression. But on that on issue, the professionals in attendance said they had mixed thoughts.
Ricard said that for many years there was actually an under-diagnosis of depression in the elderly. Nowadays, she said there were many people, especially in those residing in nursing homes who have been correctly diagnosed. But one additional problem, she said, is that they are not being treated correctly with therapy, but with anti-anxiety medications instead.
Deb Allen, RN, care manager for the Southboro Medical Center, said that “people see commercials and want what they see [prescription medicines for depression].”
It is can sometimes take months for someone to get an appointment with a psychiatrist to be diagnosed correctly, she added, so in the meantime, the elderly person gets a prescription from a physician to help them cope with their depression. Inherent in this is that the patient may not always be forthcoming with their physician about prescription and over-the-counter medications they are taking. And that can lead to a whole host of other problems, medical and other-wise, the professionals all agreed.