In Summary

  • Swinburne awarded $985,750.60 NHMRC funding
  • The aged care mental health support trial will involve family members, staff and student counsellors
  • Aims to improve training of aged care staff to address mental health care needs of residents

Swinburne Associate Professor Sunil Bhar has been awarded $985,750.60 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding to lead an aged care mental health support trial.

The program aims to improve the mental health of residents in aged care facilities by involving family members, staff and student counsellors.

“Nearly half the people living in residential aged care facilities suffer from significant symptoms of depression at any given time, but current systems don’t support routine screening of such symptoms or provide access to appropriate services if detected,” says Associate Professor Bhar.

Over seven years, Swinburne researchers – led by Associate Professor Bhar – have developed and pilot-tested an innovative model of mental health service delivery in the residential aged care sector, known as ELATE: Elders at Ease Program.

“This program uses an approach in which counsellors, staff, and family carers collaborate to provide tailored psychological interventions to residents living with symptoms of depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts,” Associate Professor Bhar says.

“It has been found to be clinically feasible and highly acceptable to residents and staff and can enhance the present system of care.”

The NHMRC funding will enable the clinical and health economic impact of this program on depression and associated psychological conditions in residents in aged care facilities and their family carers to be tested.

“To our knowledge, ELATE will be the first Australian mental health care model for aged care residents internationally that involves professional staff and family carers in the management of resident depression and anxiety,” Associate Professor Bhar says.

older man holding hackeysack, seated next to woman who is holding his arm

The findings will build knowledge about the effectiveness of psychological interventions for improving the emotional wellbeing in residents.

The program will provide an immediate accessible service to residents. It will address the need to improve the training of aged care staff in recognising and responding to mental health care needs of residents and involve families in meaningful ways to assist their relatives living in residential care.

It will also provide placements for students in clinical geropsychology to address the growing need for a competent workforce to deliver services to our ageing population.