Group 'house calls' from Dr. Dan Therapy: A Columbia psychiatrist finds group sessions help seniors feel more comfortable.

August 25, 1996|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For more than a year, Dr. Daniel Storch has been making monthly "house calls" to the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia to give seniors a healthy dose of information about their mental health.

The laid-back "Ask Dr. Dan" group meets in the center's lobby -- rather than a private room -- so that seniors will feel more comfortable approaching the psychiatrist about such concerns as forgetfulness, depression or sleeplessness.

"We want to let seniors know that professionals in the mental health world are not weird or unapproachable," said Storch, who is certified in geriatrics and is medical director of the Riverwood Center.

The center on Old Columbia Road in Columbia provides counseling and is operated by the Howard County Health Department's Bureau of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Storch's program is a joint effort of the county's Health Department and the Office on Aging, and is coordinated by Storch and his associate, Sonja Fleming, a registered nurse-therapist, who also works at the Riverwood Center.

Popularity grows

Since the program began in March 1995, Storch and Fleming have seen an increase from six to as many as 24 people who congregate in the Florence Bain lobby to listen to information that the pair conveys loud and clear from microphones.

"We want to make people more aware and less intimidated when they think they need help," said Arleen Kvech, director of the Florence Bain Senior Center. "The format of 'Ask Dr. Dan' doesn't have to be so personal. That's why meetings are conducted in the lobby. People can wander around and sit down if they are interested in a particular concern."

Because of the program's success, Storch and Fleming plan to visit other senior centers in the area. So far they have visited Hebron House Senior Center Plus in Ellicott City, which serves the frail senior population. The next meeting will be at the Ellicott City Senior Center from 10: 30 a.m. to noon Sept. 19.

Recently, about six people sat on overstuffed sofas at the Florence Bain Senior Center as the topic of depression was presented.

"It's easier to go to the doctor's to discuss medical issues, but JTC with depression, it's a little bit different," Fleming said.

In this setting, however, some seniors expressed their concerns openly.

For instance, Ralph Rich, a 77-year-old Marriottsville resident, talked about his bout with loneliness and of others who have become homebound because of their fears.

Another senior moved to Columbia a year ago when her family was transferred from Arizona. "I lost my whole world," she said.

Since then, the woman hasn't been able to "get things straightened out" in her apartment where she lives independently. She seemed distraught and overwhelmed about her need for physical therapy after a stroke.

The stresses of dealing with the loss of loved ones, physical illnesses, relocating and finances can place a heavy burden on seniors, Storch said. But he reassured the group that depression is treatable -- often with a combination of "talking" therapy and medication.

Passersby linger to listen

Ultimately, as more concerns were introduced by seniors, a few people who were passing by the lobby hesitated for a few minutes to listen. Some continued on their way, but others seated themselves among the group, which grew to about 15 listeners.

L Concerns about taking too many medications were also voiced.

"It's more common for medicines to be added and less common for them to be taken away," Storch said. "Some people are double-dosing on new and old medicines and need a doctor's evaluation."

Other topics included memory loss and the fear of developing Alzheimer's disease. Storch talked about the distinction between forgetting the car keys and dementia, and he expressed hope about new drugs for the disease.

He also offered suggestions for coping with a decline in memory. Making lists and using pill packs that designate the days of the week can help seniors, he said.

With every concern that was expressed, Storch and Fleming offered support and education.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the woman who had been distraught seemed relieved, having been given emotional support from the group and guidance to resources that are available through the Office on Aging.

Elsie Waters, a 75-year-old Hickory Ridge resident whose husband died last year, summed up her satisfaction with the meeting.

"It's about survivorship," she said.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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