In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we shared information about our healthy aging studies for adults ages 60+ on-air with Jennifer Blome of The Big 550 KTRS.
Listen to the full recording or read the transcript below.
This radio interview aired on May 14, 2018.
Jennifer Blome (The Big 550 KTRS): There is a study coming up at Washington University. They are recruiting adults age 65 and older. It’s a healthy aging study and you can be part of it if you would like. So, we will be talking to psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Lenze. He is the director of the Healthy Mind Lab at WashU. And Dr. Lenze joins us online right now. Dr. Lenze, thanks for joining us.
Dr. Eric Lenze (Washington University School of Medicine): Hi! Thank you for having me.
Blome: So tell us about the volunteers you need for this healthy aging study. What do they need to be eligible?
Lenze: Thanks. Well, we’re studying a couple of projects of healthy aging in older adults. You may know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month and that depression is actually a common problem in older adults. One of our studies is looking at the best ways to treat depression in older adults. And we’re specifically looking for people who still have persistent symptoms of depression even though they’re already getting a treatment for that. For example, a patient who might say, “Well, my doctor tried this antidepressant and I’ve been taking it every day but I still feel sad. I still have all these negative thoughts. My energy isn’t that good. I’m still depressed. What do I do next?” Our study is trying to test the benefits of various next-line treatments for their quality of life as well as for their brain health.
Our study is trying to test the benefits of various next-line treatments for their quality of life as well as for their brain health.
Blome: Dr. Lenze, if people are chosen for this study, where do they have to travel and what do they do?
Lenze: We can do a lot of this study over the phone. The study provides care to people in the form of phone conversations with them where we ask them how their symptoms are, how well they’re tolerating treatment. Then we adjust treatment over the phone based on what they tell us. We do see people in-person at the beginning and end of the study to assess how their symptoms are and how their brain functioning is.
Blome: And do you see them at the Healthy Mind Lab… on the campus of WashU?
Lenze: The Healthy Mind Lab is a few blocks away from the center of Barnes Hospital. So, I will let everyone know, we have very convenient parking here. That often becomes a problem.
Blome: Are people paid?
Lenze: People are paid… up to $240 for this study. I would say that the main benefit of the study is getting better care for your depression.
…the main benefit of the study is getting better care for your depression.
Blome: So the depression study is separate from the healthy aging study?
Lenze: Both studies look at healthy aging. But you’re right we do have another study that involves healthy older adults. These are not necessarily people with depression. This is a study that we call the MEDEX study for mindfulness, education and exercise. Basically, we are looking at different ways to help the brains of older adults who might feel like their memory just isn’t as good as it used to be.
Blome: If people sign up for the MEDEX study, what do they do and where?
Lenze: People in the MEDEX study come here to the Healthy Mind Lab and work closely with our interventionists. It’s a pretty involved study that lasts a year and a half long, 18 months long. In it people undergo 1 of 3 things to try to help them with their brain functioning. One possibility is exercise. They come in and learn how to do aerobic and strength training exercise. Another possibility is mindfulness. We teach them how to practice mindfulness, doing things like meditation. And then finally, a third possibility is health education, learning how to interact with your physicians and how to take medications properly.
Blome: So, Dr. Lenze, if volunteers are chose for this healthy aging study and you said it lasts for [almost] 20 months. How often do they come in? And is it like going to the gym or taking classes?
Lenze: Exactly right. It is like going to the gym or taking classes. In this case you are working with expert specialists who are used to working with older adults. For example, we know how to get older adults to work out and exercise safely.
Blome: And so what is the phone number and the website in case we have listeners who would like to take part in the healthy aging study at Washington University?
Lenze: Thanks, and I hope they do call. I think that they would enjoy either of these studies and find that they are really beneficial. Our phone number is 314-747-1134.
Blome: And the website?
Lenze: You can just type in Healthy Mind Lab or our web address is healthymind.wustl.edu.
Blome: I think your first suggestion is good, just Google Healthy Mind WashU and it will come up. How many volunteers will be chosen, Dr. Lenze?
Lenze: Both of these are large studies. They are really trying to answer some long-term questions definitively. The first depression study (Optimum) involves up to 1,500 people and the second study (MEDEX) is 580 people. So we are definitely looking for people to volunteer for both of these studies.
Blome: And Dr. Lenze, again about the depression study, if we have an older adult who is interested and they are on meds, do you then prescribe and change their meds possibly?
Lenze: I can be the prescriber to do that or I can work with their prescriber and have them change the medications. It is really up to the participant’s choice.
Blome: And it is a study so you don’t know what the outcome will be, but you are comparing different meds?
Lenze: Correct. There is no placebo in that we are comparing different next-line medication strategies against each other to see which one is most effective.
Blome: I know Washington University is on the cutting edge of this kind of research. And again, what is the address of the lab? You said that parking would be no problem. I know that lots of people think that driving to the WashU campus or Barnes is a hassle, but it’s easy?
Lenze: Correct. And they are right. Driving to Barnes is often a hassle but we are a few blocks away on Taylor Avenue, 600 South Taylor. We have very convenient pull-up parking spots. That is one other nice thing about participating in these studies.
Blome: So, Dr. Lenze, the healthy aging study lasts for 20 months. How long does the depression study last?
Lenze: Well, we follow people for about 2 months on treatment to try to see if we can find the best dose of a new treatment for them and how well it works. But then we observe them for another year or longer. This observation is usually a phone call every few months. So it’s not very intensive on their part but it allows us to see how they do over the long-term as well.
Blome: And in both studies, people have to be what age?
Lenze: It is a little bit different for each. The depression study is age 60 and up. The healthy aging study that involves mindfulness and exercise, that’s age 65 and up.
Blome: Do you see the incidence of depression rising with people when they hit 60?
Lenze: That’s a good question. The good news about aging is that it doesn’t necessarily lead to more depression. In fact, for many healthy older adults, they’re never going to get depressed. But some people do have long-standing depression and some people do develop it as they get older. Both those groups of people are ones that we want to help in that study.
Blome: Over time, if somebody has long-term mild clinical depression, might their medicine stop working and they would do well with a new type?
Lenze: That does happen sometimes, but in general if a medication helps you get well, it will help you stay well. That is what we are looking for in the study is medication that will help people get well, and then we follow them long-term to see if they stay well.
Blome: Dr. Eric Lenze, psychiatrist and director of the Healthy Mind Lab at WashU, thank you so much for joining us on KTRS. Again, volunteers are needed for the healthy aging study. You can call today (314) 747-1134.