Weill Cornell Institute and Westchester County Share $1.5 Million Grant on Depression in Older Adults

National Institute for Mental Health Grant Expected To Improve Diagnosis and Care

Nov 29, 2004

White Plains, NY

Weill Cornell Institute for Geriatric Psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division and Westchester County today announced a major initiative designed to develop new methods to recognize and fight depression in older adults living in Westchester.

The program, expected to become a national model, was unveiled at a press conference by Westchester County Executive Andy Spano and Dr. George Alexopoulos, the Institute's director. Weill Cornell Institute for Geriatric Psychiatry and the Westchester County's Department of Senior Programs and Services will share a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institute for Mental Health that was awarded to Weill Cornell Medical College. That grant will allow them to reach beyond institutional walls to study late-life depression in the community, track treatment approaches and develop new methods to improve care.

"We are excited about this unique opportunity to learn how to improve depression care for older adults of Westchester," said Alexopoulos, a leading expert on geriatric depression. "Working with the County, we hope to develop ways to break down the barriers that now can prevent older people from being diagnosed as depressed and successfully treated."

Spano said the findings from the study will not only improve care for Westchester's older adults, but also benefit other communities across the nation. "We hope that what we learn about depression will be put to use by doctors' offices, health centers and other agencies and lead to more older adults receiving care for a condition that can be successfully treated," Spano said.

In Westchester County, almost 20 percent of the population is over 60; seniors are at higher risk for depression than other adults when suffering from other medical conditions and disabilities. Statistics suggest that more than 22,000 Westchester seniors will be affected by depression alone this year. Chronic health problems, disabilities that limit mobility, low self-esteem, and loss of friends or loved ones can lead to depression. At this time of year, the holidays can also be hard on people whose depression is linked to loneliness and loss.

The NIMH grant will enable four social workers employed by the county to screen older adults at high-risk for depression for the condition. Working with an Institute research coordinator, they will also screen for alcohol abuse, falls risk and memory problems that may be associated with depression. Older adults who appear to be depressed will be provided with more comprehensive testing and given options for appropriate mental health and/or medical treatment in a variety of community and hospital settings.

The screenings will initially be done on 250 people and will be expanded over the course of the project.

The NIMH grant will also support a number of other research initiatives and collaborative ventures to improve mental health care. It is expected to reveal gaps in services and barriers that now limit diagnosis and care for depression, and may result in new mental health services for seniors in the future.

The Weill Cornell Institute of Geriatric Psychiatry provides specialized mental health services to older adults and referrals as needed. Older adults who believe they may be depressed can receive free telephone screening from the Institute by calling 914-997-4331. The Institute is located at NewYork-Presbyterian's Westchester Division, one of the world's most advanced centers for psychiatric care. The hospital serves children, adolescents, adults and the elderly with comprehensive outpatient, day treatment, partial hospitalization, and inpatient services.

Older persons and caregivers can also call the County Department of Senior Programs and Services at 914-813-6300 for information and referrals for social, nutritional and health services provided by the county and other agencies, or visit http://seniorcitizens.westchestergov.com/. Referrals for treatment of mental health conditions and free information on depression are also available by calling the county Department of Mental Health's Depression Support Network at 914-995-5236 or by visiting its website, http://mentalhealth.westchestergov.com/.