Coalition explores surprising connection between fall risk and depression | TheUnion.com

Coalition explores surprising connection between fall risk and depression

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

The reason for the majority of Emergency Room visits by older adults may surprise you. It's not heart attacks, or illness, or accidents. It's falls.

Falls lead to more nonfatal injuries in seniors than anything else, and falls are also the number one cause of injury-related deaths in older Americans.

The Falls Prevention Coalition of Nevada County (a program of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation) uses community outreach and education to help reduce fall risk for local residents.

This year they are expanding their efforts by hosting a series of workshops that will address underlying issues that can lead to a fall. The first of these workshops, part of the SNMH Wellness Program, will begin on May 3, when the coalition will tackle the topic of depression.

"It may surprise people, but depression is one of the leading factors contributing to falls," explains Falls Prevention Coalition Coordinator Karen Marinovich. "Left untreated, depression can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, it can lead to poor nutrition, and it can even change your gait. All of these things put you at a greater risk for falls."

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Marinovich hopes that by starting the conversation, the coalition can help to reduce some of the stigma surrounding mental health in general and depression in particular.

"Depression is so common among both older adults and those caring for them. We want to bring it out into the open and help people start talking about it,'" she said.

Through her work with the falls prevention program, Marinovich says she often encounters men and women who show signs of the depression but refuse to recognize it.

"Often, they will say something like, 'Oh I've been feeling blue and it's been going on for some time, but I'm not depressed!'" she said. "There is a real fear that by talking about it, you are admitting defeat or saying that you can't cope."

Many of the risk factors or triggers for depression are already present among older adults and their caregivers. These can include:

— Stress

— Personal loss and/or trauma

— Medical issues (including having experienced a fall)

— Medication

— Family history

At the May 3 workshop, attendees will be given a simple, six-question screening tool designed to help identify those at-risk for or suffering from depression.

"Our hope is that the survey will not only help people see that they may be affected by depression, but it will also give them a starting point for a conversation with their doctor. The screening tool can help them say, 'Here's what I'm experiencing, what do you recommend?'"

Caught early enough, lifestyle or behavior changes may help relieve depression. Marinovich says one of the best things you can do every day to improve your overall mental health is exercise.

"Any exercise — and really any activity – can help," she explains. "Getting out of that sedentary position and moving your body is so important."

Other lifestyle, or "self-care," tips include eating a healthy diet that limits sugar, salt and fat, the exact foods we often crave when depressed; performing meditation; and practicing expressive writing or journaling.

"If self-care options don't prove helpful, then we recommend a referral to a therapist to address underlying issues," Marinovich said.

The May 3 workshop is the first of five workshops the coalition will host this year, all aimed at addressing factors that contribute to fall risk among Nevada County residents.

And while the goal of the workshops is to reduce the risk of falling, the bigger picture goal is to improve the overall health of Nevada County residents of all ages.

"Really, the tips we talk about in these workshops are good advice for everyone," Marinovich says. "Eating healthy, exercising regularly, reducing stress — these are steps we should all be taking."

"The Many Faces of Depression and How to Find Relief" will take place on Thursday, May 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the SNMH Outpatient Center, Room 120. Registration is $10. Register online at supportsierra nevada.org/wellnessclasses.

Call 530-477-9700 for more information.

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