Bolstered by Donor’s Generosity, Researcher Aims to Combat Depression

Older adults are at an increased risk of depression, and up to 13.5 percent of seniors receiving home health care suffer from the disease.

But some nurses — and even the patients themselves — believe that depression is a “normal reaction” to aging. As a result, many older adults with the disease don’t receive adequate treatment or care.

Assistant Professor Dianne Liebel, PhD, RN, hopes to change that. Dianne Liebel

Liebel, who has researched issues in home health care for 15 years, is working on an initiative to help visiting nurses better detect and manage depression in their patients. A gift from an anonymous donor made during the Meliora Challenge is making Liebel’s work in this area possible.

“The donor herself had received home health care, and she wasn’t satisfied with some of the care she received,” said Liebel. “But she didn’t just get upset. She was proactive. She said, ‘I want to be a part of making this better.’ That really let me know that what I was trying to do was worthwhile.”

As part of her research, Liebel conducted interviews with home health care nurses to gauge their perceptions about disability and depression among older adults. As she expected, many nurses were comfortable dealing with disability, but often considered depression to be part of the aging process.

Next, Liebel observed the nurses during their home visits to study their interactions.

“We found that both the nurses and their patients were frustrated with the connections they were making with each other, and in many cases, depression was not addressed. It was like the ‘elephant in the room,’” she said.

Providing mental health care as a visiting nurse poses unique obstacles, Liebel said.

“Visiting nurses often don’t know what kind of environment they’re walking into, there may be distractions from the family in the home, or the nurses could feel unsafe in the environment they’re working in.”

To better arm them with the education and skills they need to tackle the complex issue of depression in these challenging environments, Liebel created a hybrid online course specifically for visiting nurses. The course, coupled with on-site classes led by mental health specialists, teaches nurses about disability, depression, and how to provide integrated nursing care to older adults in order to improve their overall quality of life.

“I hope that this project will impact the lives of older adults in our community and will help our nurses be more satisfied with the work that they are doing,” said Liebel. “The fact that someone wanted to support my research gives the project even more meaning. I’m still taken aback by it.”

This story was originally featured in the Fall 2016 NURSING magazine to illustrate the Meliora Challenge campaign's impact on the school, its students, and its faculty.