Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have received $2.1 million for a research project focusing on identifying and providing interventions for anxiety in older adults. The project, funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, is a community-academic partnership project and will focus on older adults who live in low-income communities.

“Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in older adults, but it has not been highly studied and people are not as aware of it,” said Dr. Melinda Stanley, professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and Investigator, Health Services Research and Development Center for Innovation, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

Anxiety is manifested through feelings, thoughts, physical symptoms and behaviors and can include feelings of fear, nervousness and worrying. Many people have physical symptoms of anxiety including increased heart rate, muscle tension, shortness of breath and gastrointestinal symptoms. In older adults, anxiety can be associated with concerns about loss of independence, changes in financial status or living situation, health-related issues and even fear of falling. Anxiety is associated with negative public health outcomes, including poor health-related quality of life, reduced functional capacity, increased cognitive problems and increased rates of mortality. 

The focus of the Calmer Life Program, which has existed in pilot form for the past few years, will be on treating older adults with late life anxiety, with the specific aim to expand services to older adults in medically underserved and mental health shortage areas.

“There are not enough mental health providers for older adults, particularly in certain geographic areas and in underserved populations,” said Stanley. “This project will help us deliver evidence-based care for older adults with anxiety and test the effectiveness of two different types of care delivered by community health providers under the supervision of a mental health expert.”

Interventions delivered in the Calmer Life program will assist people in managing worry and stress with a variety of skills, including learning how to connect to community resources and communicate with primary care providers to meet participant needs. Sessions are individual and occur in convenient locations or over the telephone. 

“By participating in efforts like Calmer Life, our staff skills are elevated, their ability and confidence in addressing conditions like worry and depression are enhanced, and our agency’s capacity to broaden its impact on the population we serve is tremendously improved,” said Jane Bavineau, vice president of Sheltering Arms Senior Services Division of Neighborhood Centers, Inc., one of the community partners for the project.

Participants may have the opportunity to integrate religion and spirituality into their treatment.

“The interventions offered are centered around the participant with regard to where we deliver the care – in social services agencies, in churches, in people’s homes and by telephone,” said Stanley. “Many older adults and minorities don’t feel comfortable going into a mental health setting because of the stigma, so we are taking the services to them. The project helps us look at ways of partnering with other organizations that offer services to older adults.”

“The project helps us take evidence-based care and expand it to make it more acceptable and more engaging for people in underserved communities,” said Stanley.

Community partners include Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Sheltering Arms Senior Services Division of Neighborhood Centers, Inc. and a range of community centers and churches that serve people living in the Third Ward, Fifth Ward, and OST/South Union communities.