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Low-cost program helps beat depression in 2 studies

Monday August 26, 2013
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Two studies show that a low-cost, home-based program called Beat the Blues can reduce symptoms of depression in two of three older African Americans, even when they have significant financial concerns.

The research, done by core faculty from the Center for Innovative Care in Aging at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, suggests the program not only can reduce depressive symptoms, but also can start to detach financial stress and depression, according to a news release.

Professor Laura N. Gitlin, PhD, and colleagues found 67% of Beat the Blues participants — primarily unemployed older women, living alone and experiencing financial and multiple health problems — showed meaningful reductions in depressive symptoms at four months, compared with a comparable group placed on a "waiting list."

When the people on the waiting list later participated in the program, they also developed improved mood and quality of life. At eight months, close to 70% of all participants sustained program-related benefits, according to the report, which was published in the August issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (http://bit.ly/19GvCSX).

In the August issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (http://bit.ly/172zzO5), associate professor Sarah L. Szanton, RN, MSN, CRNP, PhD, Gitlin and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health colleague Roland J. Thorpe Jr., PhD, found Beat the Blues also lowers depressive symptoms among people with "financial strain," which means they have trouble paying for their basic needs. The link between depression and economic difficulties is well known; however, those with financial strain were just as likely as other study participants to experience reduced depressive symptoms from the targeted intervention.

The programís content, structure and were tailored specifically to older African Americans, and the research team recruited study participants at the local senior center. They enlisted more than 208 study participants with depressive symptoms who were split into two comparable groups. One group immediately participated in Beat the Blues and the other became the waiting list.

During four months, a social worker conducted as many as 10 sessions in participantsí homes. Each session included depression education, care management and stress reduction, specialized health and self-care goal setting and referral to community-based services and supports.

Results were assessed at four months, at which time people on the waiting list joined the program. At eight months, a second assessment found that former waiting list participants — including those coping with financial strain — experienced the same benefits and that the majority of the first test group retained an improved health status.

"Depression isnít a normal part of getting older; it isnít a character flaw or a moral failing. Itís a treatable health problem," Gitlin said in the release. The studies also show the program can reduce depressive symptoms long term, and highlight the key role of senior centers, according to Gitlin.

"Our paired studies suggest that depression can be 'decoupledí from financial strain," Szanton said in the release. "We can reduce depressive symptoms that can keep people from undertaking daily activities important to their health."

The studiesí authors said their findings suggest Beat the Blues possibly could help other populations reduce symptoms of depression.


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