Poor psychological services for aged care residents

Friday 26 August 2016

An elderly woman and a younger companion

Rates of depression and anxiety are high among older adults in residential aged care facilities

In summary

  • Access to psychological services remains poor in Australian residential aged care facilities
  • Rates of depression and anxiety are high among older adults in residential aged care facilities
  • First Australian study to investigate the accessibility of psychological services for older adults 

Access to psychologists and psychological services remains poor in Australian residential aged care facilities, a new study finds.

The study conducted by Swinburne University of Technology and a team of Australian research institutes  found that aged care residents were rarely referred to psychologists or to psychological treatments.  

When people become chronically ill or experience adjustments in life circumstances, they are more prone to depression and anxiety, Swinburne psychology Associate Professor Sunil Bhar says. 

A low availability of psychologists specialising in treating older adults, lack of government funding and limited staff training to detect depression and anxiety were recognised as key barriers to accessing appropriate treatment. 

While rates of depression and anxiety are high among older adults in residential aged care facilities, and despite the positive results of psychological treatments, psychologists and their services remain poorly accessed. 

“Rates of anxiety and depression are especially high in aged care residential settings because of a high numbers of individuals with chronic illnesses and adjustments. 

“Our aspiration is for residential aged care settings to employ mental health professionals such as psychologists and social workers to work with residents and provide training and support to staff.” 

The study found access to services could be improved by: 

  • developing a workforce of clinical psychologists specialising in older clients
  • improving funding mechanisms for residents to access services
  • addressing staff knowledge about depression and anxiety 

This is the first Australian study to investigate the accessibility of psychological services for older adults living in residential aged care facilities. 

Ninety senior staff from a random sample of residential aged care facilities around Australia answered questions regarding their perspective on the availability of psychological services to form the results. 

The study, published in Australian Psychologist, was conducted by a team of researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, Monash University, University of Southern Queensland, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Carol Hunter Psychology, Australian Catholic University, La Trobe University and James Cook University 

If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, support is available by calling beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.