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Almost half of older Aussies living in aged care homes could benefit from this therapy

How the mental health of older Aussies living in aged care could improve with this therapy

<p>Depression can affect anyone, but researchers suggest that some treatments have longer-term benefits than others. [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

Depression can affect anyone, but researchers suggest that some treatments have longer-term benefits than others. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Approximately half of Australians living in aged care homes have been diagnosed with depression, according to recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • Researchers have identified long-term effects of cognitive behavioural therapy on older Australians who participated in an Ageing Wisely study
  • Associate Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University Carly Johnco reiterated that being anxious or depressed is ‘not a normal part of ageing’

Researchers at Macquarie University in New South Wales have identified long-term benefits for older Australians who participate in cognitive behavioural therapy, commonly referred to as ‘CBT.’

CBT may be useful in minimising symptoms of anxiety and depression with new data suggesting long-term benefits for older adults who engaged in the Ageing Wisely psychological treatment program ten years ago. 

Almost half of older Australians living in residential care homes were diagnosed with depression, according to recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Some life events may increase the likelihood of an older person becoming depressed, including having poor physical health, feeling socially isolated or losing a partner or close friend. 

In the initial study, participants were divided into two groups, namely CBT and discussion groups. While the discussion group aimed to foster social connection and support, CBT group participants learnt self-help skills to manage their mental health issues more independently. 

Participants in both groups exhibited short-term benefits of reduced anxiety and depression, but a follow-up study ten years post-treatment suggests that CBT may be more effective.

Associate Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Carly Johnco highlighted the importance of educating older Australians about the benefit of engaging in CBT to manage their mental health.

“The people in the CBT group came to us with an average of four anxiety and depression disorders, but 10 years after treatment, 58 percent were in remission from all of their disorders compared to 27 percent of the discussion group,” she said. 

Depression can affect people differently, however, there are some signs to look out for if you are worried about yourself or others. Changes in sleep patterns, increased irritability, low energy and losing interest in favourite activities are all symptoms of depression if they last longer than two weeks.

A lesser-known effect of depression is that it can affect memory and concentration, even though issues with these skills are often associated with older age. Being aware of how depression affects people differently could reduce the likelihood of it being left untreated and possibly becoming more severe. 

While such symptoms may be present at any age, researchers have identified that older Australians with diagnosed depression may be treated differently from younger people.

Associate Professor Johnco expressed concern regarding older Australians being overprescribed medications to manage poor mental health.

“When older people present with mental health symptoms — if they are recognised as mental health symptoms at all — they are disproportionately prescribed medication,” she said.

“There’s a misconception that psychological treatment won’t be of assistance, not only among the individuals themselves but also among general practitioners, allied health professionals and even psychologists.”

Associate Professor Johnco also discussed the importance of increasing Australians’ awareness of CBT benefits for older Australians.

“This new study shows that not only can we teach older people new tricks, but that those new tricks will remain beneficial for many years to come and help people through tough times,” she said.

“It’s important that we move past the ageist stereotypes and the stigma to ensure that older people receive the help they need because it can make a big difference.” 

“It is not a normal part of ageing to become anxious and depressed.” 

The Ageing Wisely psychological treatment program is a free program available for older Australians to help improve their mental health. Information is available in their brochure or on the Macquarie University website.

To find out more information about this program and how you can participate, email or call +61 (2) 9850 8715.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, support is available now. Lifeline is a free service available through phone, text or online chat. Additionally, counsellors are available for a free chat via the Beyond Blue website or through the phone


Have you experienced mental health concerns and engaged in CBT? What were your experiences with this treatment?

Let the team at Talking Aged Care know on social media. 

For more information and news in the aged care industry, subscribe to our free newsletter. 


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