“Physical deterioration and chronic illness, social isolation, loss of independence and loneliness can make this group more vulnerable to developing depression,” says Beyondblue CEO Georgia Harman.
Whilst it is thought that about 10 percent of older Australians have depression or anxiety, the National Ageing Research Institute says more than 50 percent of those living in aged care facilities have either or both disorders, and just under 50 percent enter residential with a pre-existing depressive condition.
Along with the mental health of residents in aged care, the Review identified late life anxiety conditions, suicide risk among older indigenous Australians, and primary care detection and treatment of mental health issues in older Australians as areas requiring further study.
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), untreated depression or anxiety may impact quality of life and contribute to increased suicide rates.
Data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that women aged 65 and over account for 14 percent of all female suicides in Australia, and men aged 85 and older are the most likely of any age group to take their own lives.
In light of these alarming statistics, Beyondblue and the NHMRC have partnered to launch a $5 million grant calling for research proposals into the issue.
“Beyondblue has invested significant resources in research and programs for the mental health of young people and adults, but it appears more can be done to examine the health of older Australians who contribute so greatly to our society,” says beyondblue’s Georgie Harman.
Current efforts to prevent the development of anxiety or depression are “limited” and detection of issues is imperfect, according to the NHMRC, who say many elderly people are currently being prescribed medication when improved peer-support would be more suitable.
The research projects will examine new ways to detect, manage or prevent mental health problems in the older demographic.
Beyondblue is also inviting care workers to complete their free online Professional Education to Aged Care course, designed to assist aged-care staff in recognising and managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety in residents.
They say the course is suitable for staff in various carer roles, including nurses, personal care assistants and community care workers.