New senior health program caters to ‘mind, body, spirit’ (updated)

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

When a patient lives with a age-related emotional and mental disorder such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the situation takes a toll on the person living with the disease and their caregivers.

The new Senior Behavioral Health Program at Mercy Hospital in Rogers will serve the “mind body and spirit” of patients age 55 and older who are living with Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, depression and other mental/emotional health issues, according to hospital officials.

The new program, opening next month, is on the hospital’s seventh floor and features an 18-bed unit. The public and media got a first look at the new unit Tuesday (June 18) during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

The $3.5 million dollar renovation was made possible in part from a $1 million gift from the Walmart Foundation and the remaining costs were from the Mercy Foundation as part of Mercy’s $90 million enhancement and expansion plan. The new unit means 20 new jobs with the opportunity for growth.

“We’re excited about the physical healing and outstanding science but also that the emotional and spiritual needs will be met,” said John Halstead, vice president of mission and ethics for Mercy Health System.

One unique aspect of the program, he said, is that the hospital setting means that patients can receive the psychiatric care they need but if there are major physical needs that arise, those can easily be addressed.

Late-life depression affects about six million Americans but only 10% of adults age 65 and older seek depression treatment, according to Mercy Health officials. Suicide rates of 16% among seniors age 65 and older are the highest among any other age demographics. But this age group only comprises about 12.4% of the total population.

Dr. Donnie Holden serves as medical director for the new program and he said the new program is a return of these types of services to Northwest Arkansas. Geriatric psychiatric services were available for a time at the old Bates Hospital, he said.

Mercy decided to create the program after the growing need for the services were expressed repeatedly during focus groups hosted last year, said Scott Street, Mercy president and CEO.

“It’s bringing to light and reality that is needed,” he said.

Holden said the dream started with the construction and now it’s moving on to a new phase as the program actually opens. Calling the unit a “state-of-the-art healing center,” Holden spoke of the various needs that will now be met through the center.

He compared the human to an equilateral triangle with one side being the person’s physical nature, one side being the mental/emotional nature and the third being their spiritual nature, including their sense of purpose.

“If you break one bond, the entire configuration is lost,” he said.

Gary Halstead is co-owner of Comfort Keepers in Bella Vista, which offers in-home care for seniors and families. He agreed the new unit is needed. Sometimes his clients will need the additional care outside of the home or sometimes patients might be in the hospital and released to in-home care later.

Gary Halstead (John Halstead’s father) said his company also meets the needs of the client’s caregiver by providing respite care and he ability to take much-needed time away to address their own health needs.

IMPACT ON CAREGIVERS
The impact on caregivers is a major consideration when dealing with dementia patients.

In 2012, 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer's and other dementias — care valued at $216.4 billion, which is more than eight times the total sales of McDonald's in 2011, according to Mercy officials. Eighty percent of care provided in the community is provided by unpaid caregivers.

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Nearly 15% of caregivers are long-distance caregivers, living an hour or more away from their loved ones. Out-of-pocket expenses for long-distance caregivers are nearly twice as much as local caregivers.

More than 60% of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; more than one-third report symptoms of depression. Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers had $9.1 billion in additional health care costs of their own in 2012.

Dementia data
• 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
• 200,000 people diagnosed are younger than 65.
• 33% of senior citizens die from Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

Arkansas Impact
In the year 2000, 56,000 Arkansans had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but by the year 2010, 60,000 Arkansans had been diagnosed. Those figures are expected to increase to at least 76,000 Arkansans being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2025.

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