Renee Gutierrez, a SeniorBridge Care Manager in Arizona, has worked in many areas of healthcare (she started as an EMT), but her identity as a mental health professional is the one she identifies with most strongly. Specifically, she has extensive experience in helping people with dementia and other irreversible conditions as they face the mental health symptoms that frequently accompany their diagnosis. She shared the following insights and perspectives with us.
What are some of the big challenges in helping older clients with mental health issues?
You might be surprised, but in mental health care at home one of the biggest everyday problems I’ve seen is dehydration. It can cause urinary tract infections, it affects the immune system, cardiac functions, energy, mood, and other things. But for depressed people who may also have dementia or another serious condition, it can be hard to stay hydrated.
What have you learned from your experience with depression and dementia?
There’s a consistent connection, and there are often multiple overlapping conditions with dementia. There can be a cycle where stress and anxiety play off each other and trigger the depression. Changes in brain chemistry seem to produce highs and lows, the mind reacts, and stress and anxiety follow.
“Some of the most important work is sitting with clients, being engaged with their reality and letting them know they're not alone.”
Have you seen success in helping people who have both these conditions?
There are times when, by treating the depression, you can see the anxiety and stress decrease. We help make sure the meds are managed and monitor side effects. But medications don’t fix everything. They’re a key part of the puzzle, but it’s important to look at the whole person. Sleep. Diet. Activity. Friends. Family relationships.
Since dementia is irreversible, what can home care do to help people facing ongoing mental health symptoms that are related to it?
We correlate care. Sometimes doctors don’t have time for everything, and we tend to build client relationships that last, so it’s possible for us to help keep medical care and mental health care on the same page. But truthfully, some of our most important work is just sitting with clients, being engaged with their reality and letting them know they’re not alone.
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