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​Allied health to assist with the ageing experience

Last Updated at December 8th 2021
There are many allied health services that work within the aged care sector which are vital to improving or maintaining the health and wellbeing of older people receiving aged care services or in the community.

Key points:

  • Allied health is a vital part of aged care that works in both the community and in residential aged care settings

  • Older people can receive great health benefits from accessing allied health services

  • While allied health services a broad range of people and groups, some professionals focus specifically on the aged care sector

Older person getting allied health assistance
Allied health professionals can provide vital health and wellbeing services that are very beneficial to older people. [Source: Shutterstock]

Allied health encompasses a variety of different health services that can build and support the capabilities of older people.

Professionals in allied health will already have involvement with older people in the community at their practices but these services can also be provided within aged care facilities or in the home.

The Government is recognising allied health services as more vital for the health and wellbeing of older people in aged care. In this article, we give an overview of some of the key allied health professionals supporting older people in aged care.

Psychologists and social workers

Aged care residents can greatly benefit from mental health professionals since mental health issues are likely to affect many older people including people with dementia.

Moving into residential aged care facilities can bring a sense of loss of independence or control, which can develop into moderate depression and anxiety.

People with dementia are also more likely to experience mental health conditions due to the symptoms of their cognitive disease.

Psychologists can work with an older person and coordinate services that may benefit the wellbeing of their client with the healthcare teams of the service provider.

Mental health professionals can prescribe a range of social interactions or therapies, plus provide an objective and unbiased ear to their clients.

Similarly, a social worker provides support to people during a time of crisis and can provide practical and emotional support, and counselling to older people.

In some instances, social workers can direct a client to access Government housing services, any Centrelink entitlements, and provide basic financial assistance if necessary.

To learn more about mental health services in aged care, read our article on the Aged Care Guide.

Audiologists

As we age, hearing tends to worsen and make communication difficult. It can be quite a loss to an older person and greatly impact their wellbeing as not being able to clearly communicate can have an effect on the care you receive in aged care.

Audiologists are experts in linguistics and communication and any resulting impairments, as well as balance issues that may arise from ear problems.

Generally, audiologists will provide services to older people in the way of hearing aids, assist with ear infections, and hearing loss.

Many older Australians have hearing check-ups once a year to determine any hearing loss and their overall ear health. This can be an important check-up to have regularly to ensure you can keep your hearing for longer.

Optometrists and orthoptists

Eye care specialists provide valuable services to older people, especially as your vision can start to fail us as you age.

Everything from eye health, glasses and contacts, or occlusion therapy, eye specialists can make sure your quality of life remains the same through good eye health practices.

Optometrists and orthoptists are a little bit different in service. Optometrists can detect any issues in vision, for example, signs of injuries, diseases or other issues. They also provide advice and can prescribe glasses or move you on for further treatments.

Orthoptists have a lot more knowledge around the inner workings of the eye and provide specialised care for more difficult eye issues or treatments.

For older Australians, orthoptists would be best able to check for age-related macular degeneration and other medical conditions that affect the eyes, as well as treatment for these conditions.

Podiatrists

A podiatrist is an allied health service that concerns feet, including diagnosis, treatment and prevention of foot diseases and illnesses.

Podiatry spans a range of diverse areas, including children, sportspeople, or in the case of older people - aged care.

Podiatrists may visit a person at home or in residential aged care, however, some clients may need to travel to a clinic to visit their podiatrist for treatment.

Older Australians rely on podiatrists for many different aspects, including general foot health, diabetes-related care, or for prevention of wound infections or amputation.

Since being able to stand on your feet is an important component of walking, older people require healthy feet to remain mobile and stay independent.

Podiatrists look for and care for any skin changes in older feet, pressure areas, nail changes, changing capability and movement, foot changes in shape or appearance, different walking patterns and gait changes, or any foot pain.

Physiotherapists

Physiotherapy can provide great benefits to many people, including seniors, in terms of recovering from a physical injury or maintaining mobility.

Some physiotherapists' favourite saying is "if you don't use it, you lose it", which is incredibly true for an older person as you are more likely to lose skills or abilities if you don't do them regularly - especially if daily tasks become painful or difficult.

Accessible in clinic, at hospital, within your nursing home, or visiting your own home, physiotherapists make themselves available in a variety of settings.

Older residents in aged care tend to receive massage and manipulation treatment among other types of things, like group exercise classes.

Physiotherapists are also able to assess older people and create treatment plans for any injuries, pain management, and more.

Occupational therapists

An occupational therapist (OT) can be of great assistance to an elderly person through rehabilitation like services that can help regain any loss of functions or abilities, help improve current abilities or social engagement, and assist older people in remaining independent for as long as possible.

OT's often work within residential aged care facility settings or in the community. Older people can have struggles with balance, memory, vision and hearing loss, whether they are age-related or a product of cognitive diseases.

Some helpful services an OT can provide include creating a safe space at home or assistance and education around the use of mobility equipment.

Additionally, maintaining mobility and function, with the help of OT's, can reduce a person's fall risk.

Arts and/or music therapist/ diversional therapist

Music and art therapists can provide holistic and wellbeing services to older Australians at home or, more likely, in residential aged care homes.

Utilising their craft, music or art, they can help older people reduce any stress and anxiety, provide a sense of joy and purpose, as well as boost the moods of residents.

Music therapy has been known to have great benefits to individuals with dementia.

Allowing older people to explore their creativity can provide an opportunity for them to express themselves.

Diversional therapists usually work with older people or those with dementia, providing a range of activities to keep them engaged and connected.

They can organise activity programs or group outings, and also manage respite programs in aged care facilities.

The service focuses not only on physical health but mental health as well, including any holistic needs.

To find out more about divisional therapy, read our article on the Aged Care Guide.

Dietitians

Aged care dietitians are experts in nutrition and are able to organise meal programs inclusive of individuals with dietary requirements or food modifications.

Food is an important part of the human experience, especially for older people who are likely to lose their sense of taste and smell as they get older.

Creating appetising but nutritious food is incredibly important so that older people are encouraged to eat well and remain healthy.

Often, aged care facilities will have dietitians review their menus every so often to keep food interesting and appropriate for their residents. Whereas, some meal services in the community aim to provide nutritious meals to clients living at home.

Dietitians can also create food and nutrition plans for older people who have health problems and need a changed diet.

To read more about nutrition for older people, read our article on the Aged Care Guide.

Speech pathologists

Older people can develop communication and swallowing problems as they grow older, which a speech pathologist will be able to assist with.

Issues like dysphagia affect around 50 percent of older people in aged care, and it is vital these problems are corrected, otherwise it can lead to injury, malnutrition or even death.

Conditions like dementia or strokes can have a huge effect on memory, speech and language, which can impact an older person's ability to communicate with others.

Speech pathologists can assess a person for communication and swallowing difficulties and provide management and treatment plans for aged care facilities to follow.

They can prescribe special strategies and exercises for an individual to assist with swallowing problems or even make changes to their diet to assist with eating safely.

For more information about speech pathologists' role in aged care, read our article on the Aged Care Guide.

What allied health service do you believe you will benefit from while receiving aged care services? Let us know in the comments below.

Related content:

Types of jobs in aged care
Mental health services for older people in aged care
Diversional therapy in aged care

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