By Abbey Snow

Senior Life Solutions – Helping Seniors Cope

As people age, they go through many life transitions that can cause mental struggles. May is mental health awareness month and many Seniors face challenges including chronic health issues, loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, and coping with loss and grief.

Senior Life Solutions in Mesquite provides access to behavioral healthcare in rural areas. Riley Hunzeker began working as Program Director for Senior Life Solutions in Mesquite in May 2021. She’s been working in healthcare since she was 16 years old starting as a Certified Nurse Assistant, then a Licensed Practical Nurse, and obtained her Registered Nurse certification in 2014. She worked as a nurse in Idaho then moved to Mesquite to work as a medical surgical nurse at Mesa View Regional Hospital. She became a House Supervisor for MVRH and then moved to Program Director for SLS.  

“I have worked in multiple different areas of health care, long term care, and memory care units,” Hunzeker said. “I started working with seniors as a CNA in long term care and memory units. This is when I decided I loved working with Seniors. I worked the float pool in hospitals where I would go to any floor that needed help that shift such as the ICU, MED/SURG, ER, REHAB, and PSYCH UNIT. I have also worked for two neurosurgeons as their office nurse. ”

The first Senior Life Solutions program was opened in Tennessee in 2003 by founder James A. Greene, M.D. He had dedicated his life’s work to geriatric psychiatry with a professional career spanning 50 years, including 40 years in active clinical practice or academic teaching, and over 30 years in geriatric psychiatry. With his enduring desire to impact as many people as possible, Dr. Greene founded Psychiatric Medical Care (PMC) in 2003 and opened the first Senior Life Solutions program under PMC in Tennessee. PMC has three different branches of mental health services:  Intensive Outpatient ( Senior Life Solutions), inpatient psychiatric units, Integrated Telehealth Partner (a telehealth program).    

“James A. Greene recognized the need for mental health care in rural communities and that is why he developed Senior Life Solutions,” Hunzeker said. “ They partner with local rural hospitals to provide access to mental health facilities. His steadfast commitment to country living remains the cornerstone of PMC’s focus.”

Hunzeker said older populations often get looked over and forgotten about. 

“As a person ages and goes through different transitions in life it can be challenging,” Hunzeker said. “ There has been a massive push recently for young people to seek help and therapy, but still to this day there are not many places that focus on seniors. The beauty of SLS is that it focuses on Seniors and their specific needs such as: feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, coping with loss and grief, and chronic health issues. SLS provides a safe space for seniors to gather and share similar experiences with mental health struggles as we teach them healthy ways to cope with these stressors. For most this is the first time they are being taught healthy ways to cope.They are learning skills that we all should have been taught as children but most don’t learn until later in life.”

Senior Life Solutions in Mesquite is composed of four team members; David Taylor- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (Therapist- Counselor), Doris Baeza- Office Patient Coordinator, Riley Hunzeker, RN- Program Director, and Dr. Sriram Ramaswamy – Psychiatrist.

David Taylor has been a therapist for nine years helping people and families work through very hard times in their lives. David is fantastic, his patients love him and he has changed their lives forever by helping them work through current struggles. David does group therapy and individual sessions where he helps our patients formulate specific goals and plans on how to overcome their current stressors. David holds a group in person three days a week and does have the ability to do virtual in-home therapy too. David is the “show” who does the majority of the healing with the patients, Hunzeker said. 

Doris Baeza is the glue of SLS. She holds us all together and always has a warm welcome for each person who walks through the door. Doris coordinates the schedule for the month, drives patients to group if needed, gets the meals together, and does all of the insurance and billing aspects all while making sure the office has everything it needs to function, Hunzeker said.

Hunzeker is responsible for ensuring that as a team they are meeting the needs and expectations of their patients.

“I lead, manage, and collaborate with David and Doris as we focus on quality patient care and providing services ordered by a physician,” Hunzeker said. “I am responsible for doing monthly assessments, discussing current medications and health questions with patients and their primary care provider. One of the most important parts of my job is community outreach and education. We have built many strong relationships with different providers in the area and they are truly seeing how valuable our program is and the amazing work we are doing with seniors.” 

Dr. Sriram Ramaswamy sees the patients once per month to evaluate and discuss recommendations in future care, Hunzeker said.

“There used to be such a stigma with seeking help for mental health that most people feel bad that they need help and won’t ask,” Hunzeker said. “Slowly as a society we are starting to get better at recognizing the importance of self care and mental health. When we get new patients, they are always amazed to see they are not the only ones struggling. In fact, there are many people in the same boat. We have helped many seniors who have lost spouses or family members. It’s not only the grief that comes with loss, it is the ‘Well, what do I do now?’ things that follow such as not knowing passwords to streaming services to how to pay the bills. It’s all the little things that the patient has to figure out all while grieving their loss, so we help patients navigate through this dark time. We have helped people who developed new anxiety after major trauma such as heart attacks, undergoing surgery, or battling chronic health issues with weekly doctor visits. We were able to teach them ways to cope with the stressor and how to move forward rather than getting stuck. Lastly, over the past year we have helped many patients with their anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation and loneliness due to COVID because this was a very unsure and scary time for most of our Seniors and they ended up staying holed up in their homes until there was more information and recommendations from the CDC. We have the best support system for anyone who needs help or who is willing to just try to improve their current situation.”

SLS offers in-office services, in-home assessments, telehealth therapy, and provide transportation to and from group sessions if needed.

“Just because you are a Senior does not mean it isn’t a good time for growth and opportunity” Hunzeker said. “Seniors hold some of the most genuine knowledge and they understand the things that are truly important in life. I learn something new from my patients every day I come to work. Mental Health knows no age. People struggle at different times throughout their life and that is ‘NORMAL.’ That is why we are here. We can help them in their current situation and when they feel they are ready, they can graduate from our program now equipped with new knowledge and tools showing them how to handle the curve balls that life throws at them.”

Senior Life Solutions will be holding a ‘ Lunch and Learn’ at the Mesquite Senior Center on May 11,2022 at noon to discuss mental health awareness and answer any questions people have about the program or different aspects of mental health.

They will also be having an Open house on May 17,2022 from 1130am-1pm with light refreshments. Providers and members of the community are invited to see their office and services offered. The Address is 1301 Bertha Howe Ave. Suite #7 Mesquite NV, 89027

For more information about Senior LIfe Solutions, call 702-345-4373, email rhunzeker@qhcus.com , or visit their website at https://www.mesaviewhospital.com/mesa-view-regional-hospital/behavioral-health     

 

SLS Team: (Left to right) Riley Hunzeker, Doris Baeza, and David Taylor ( Photo Credit: Riley Hunzeker)

* Information and advice for Seniors struggling with mental health
 

According to the CDC, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” 

What are some of the signs or symptoms that indicate someone we know is struggling with their mental health? 

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns increase or decrease. 
  • Expressed feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, or wanting to “just give up.” 
  • Frequent trips to the doctor or Emergency Department for unexplained illness. 
  • Frequent yelling and fighting with family or friends. 
  • Little to no energy. 
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. 
  • Mood swings. 
  • Inability to perform daily tasks, such as basic hygiene, missing appointments, or not cleaning up after themselves. 
  • Unexplained aches and pains. 

What should one do if someone they care about is struggling with their mental health? 

According to the APA, some things you can do are: 

  • Express your concern and willingness to listen, reassure them that you care about them. 
  • Use “I” statements. For example, use “I am worried about you…,” “I would like you to consider talking with a counselor….” rather than “You are….” or “You should….” 
  • Try to show patience and caring and not be judgmental of their thoughts and actions. Listen; don’t disregard or challenge the person’s feelings. 
  • Encourage them to talk to a mental health professional or their primary care provider. 
  • For some people, it may be helpful to compare the situation to a physical health concern and how they would respond. For example, if there was a concern about diabetes or high blood pressure, would they be likely to seek medical care? 
  • Remind them that seeking help is a sign of strength.    

What kinds of challenges do older adults face as they age, and how do these challenges affect their mental health?   

Often, depression and anxiety come about by a significant life change. Feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness occur due to some of these common older adult life transitions: Retirement, kids growing older with their own families, your physical abilities are different than they used to be, potential new home environment, losing loved ones, feeling more dependent on others for care. As we grow older, we experience more of these life transitions, and often they can be painful and more complex.   

As we compare older adulthood to the previous chapters in our lives, many changes that had occurred are things we initiated. As we get into later adulthood, it is much more likely that some of the things we experience are because of involuntary circumstances. Change is hard even if we initiate those changes ourselves. It is significantly different from having change forced upon us and all of the other experiences we did not anticipate.    


Why is it important to talk about mental health and wellness for older adults?

Symptoms of depression and anxiety often go unnoticed or overlooked, and even the person experiencing these feelings may think this is a normal part of aging.  There is a large population of the elderly, and these adults need to know that they don’t have to feel this way; it doesn’t have to become their “norm.” In fact, according to a recent study done by Mental Health America, about 58% of people aged 65 and older believe it is “normal” for people to get depressed as they grow older. We want you to know there are ways to restore your quality of life.  


How can people help to improve their mental health?

Mental Health America suggests several ways to improve or keep your mental health in tip-top shape. 

  • Do your best to enjoy 15 minutes of sunshine, and apply sunscreen. Sunlight synthesizes Vitamin D, which experts believe is a mood elevator.  
  • Smile. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but smiling can help to lower your heart rate and calm you down. 
  • Work your strengths. Do something you’re good at to build self-confidence, then tackle a tougher task. Meet up with family and friends.  
  • Send a thank-you note to show your appreciation for someone.  
  • Take 30 minutes to go for a walk in nature. Research shows that being in nature can increase energy levels, reduce depression and boost well-being.  
  • Take time to laugh-watch your favorite comedy or hang out with a funny friend. Laughter helps reduce anxiety.  
  • Track gratitude and accomplishments by writing down three things you are grateful for and three things you accomplished each day.  

 

Always remember you are not alone. If you are struggling and need help, please talk to your doctor or reach out to a local behavioral healthcare clinic.