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Mental health services for older people in aged care

When older people transition to permanent care, it can signify a greater need for psychological support to help them and their families work through this major life change.

Last updated: September 7th 2022
A mental health specialist can provide an impartial, unbiased person to talk with about problems in your life. [Source: Shutterstock]

A mental health specialist can provide an impartial, unbiased person to talk with about problems in your life. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Getting older doesn’t mean feeling down or sad should be expected

  • Older Australians may develop mental health issues while moving into aged care

  • There are many different counselling services available to older people in aged care

There are many factors, both physically and psychologically, that may arise that families sometimes find too difficult to cope with by themselves.

Placing a family member into care or deciding to move into care can be challenging, for both the family and the older loved one.

There are companies that offer an independent, non-judgmental service, to help explore the subtleties of each situation and offer caring support.

Mental health support and aged care

Mental Health Australia submitted evidence to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in 2019 explaining that treatment of mental health conditions in aged care is inadequate.

They found that 45 percent of newly admitted aged care residents had symptoms of depression, and 52 percent of all aged care permanent residents experience symptoms of depression.

One of the recommendations made to the Royal Commission was that aged care needs to provide a level of allied health care appropriate to each person’s needs.

When guilt kicks in

Family members can sometimes make great assumptions about the needs of one another without having honest conversations and preparations in place.

Families can often become divided by their beliefs and opinions about what is ‘best’ for their older loved one.

The ever-increasing momentum that develops during this tumultuous time may not end when you have finally found an aged care home for your loved one. In fact, it may be a signal of deeper guilt and remorse for placing a loved one in care.

Guilt can sometimes be the hardest emotion to cope with. Finding professional support may relieve you from negative beliefs and provide you with coping skills which can ease the difficult journey towards placing a loved one in care.

What help is out there?

There are many large organisations that provide assistance with mental health issues and help find the right support for older age groups through counselling services or programs. These groups include:

Aged care facilities also watch out for residents who may be experiencing depression or anxiety, and can organise counselling services.

Groups that support families and carers include:

There are many more services available and you may decide to engage a counsellor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, or social worker.

How mental health services can help

Moving into aged care can result in some older people developing, or re-triggering, mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.

A large number of older people experience some form of mental illness when in aged care. It could be the loss of independence, abilities, or lifestyle that has triggered mental health symptoms.

For others, it could be loneliness, being a victim of elder abuse or experiencing ageism, having relationship issues with your adult children, or struggling with huge changes like entering aged care.

People with dementia also have a high likelihood of developing mental health issues throughout all stages of the disease.

Counselling can be really beneficial for older people because specialists can assist in building methods to positively respond to massive life changes and the challenges that come with it.

A mental health specialist can provide an impartial, unbiased person to talk with about problems in your life, and you don’t have to worry about any judgements.

Any difficulties you may be experiencing can be looked at by a specialist and they can provide education around how you respond to these difficulties and why you respond that way. They can also provide helpful methods and strategies to cope with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses.

Some common methods include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), or more hands-on therapy, like Art Therapy or Animal-Assisted Therapy.

Mental illness is more common in older people than people realise, with between 10 – 15 percent of Australians over the age of 65 experiencing depression.

This number is higher for those living in aged care, with an estimated 30 percent of aged care residents experiencing depression.

Depression or anxiety episodes could be something someone has experienced throughout their lifetime or has only just popped up due to new changes or challenges.

There is a myriad of reasons why mental illnesses can arise for anyone, but among older Australians, it is not well treated and not well recorded.

Professor Viviana Wuthrich, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Ageing, Cognition and Wellbeing at Macquarie University, says that often health experts can ignore the fact that an older person has developed mental health issues even though they have all the symptoms.

“Our GPs (General Practitioners), even our clinicians and psychologists, often kind of just expect that it is normal for older people to feel like this, and so then [they] don’t actively go out and encourage them to seek treatment,” explains Professor Wuthrich.

“Once older people are told they have depression, then they are actually really willing. Research has shown that they are really good candidates for psychological treatment.

“They are much more reliable, they do their homework more consistently, they actually get better treatment outcomes because once they understand, they are really dedicated.”

Mental health services can also direct you to more specialised services, including support groups or information services.

If you are having issues with family members, you can even bring them along to one of your sessions as a way to mediate any disputes you are having.

However, if you want to go by yourself, then you can be assured that all of your therapy sessions are completely confidential and will stay between you and your mental health specialist.

A specialist can help you find new meaning in your life and really secure your support systems so you always feel safe and supported.

Knowing what you are experiencing is valid and expected from an outside source can go a long way to beginning your journey to acceptance or recovery.

Have you sought mental health support when you felt like you needed it? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

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