Mental Health in residential aged care is a shared responsibility, writes Dr Julie Bajic Smith.
In our younger years, our emotional wellbeing is ultimately our responsibility. It is up to us to when we speak to a trusted individual about any changes in our emotions, and to determine when we may need to seek professional help.
However, as we age and face changes in our health status, support network and potentially our environment, it must be questioned whether it is still an individual’s responsibility. Particularly when older people are less likely to talk about their wellbeing.
Instead, we need to ensure that the aged care workforce is well informed about emotional changes in late life, signs and symptoms of depression as well as preventative measure that can boost wellbeing in late life.
This approach could assist in improving the clinical outcomes in late life.
As an aged care psychology consultant, I am well aware of the challenges older people face when they enter residential care.
This includes the initial adjustment period, diminishing independence and days in between.
How we support the elderly through an admission can have profound effects on their adjustment, ongoing wellbeing and mental health outcomes.
We know from Government research data that one in two residents experience symptoms of depression and that the highest rate of suicidality is in men aged 85 and over.
Other Australian research tells us the elderly are the least likely age group to use mental health services with less than a quarter accessing support.
However, when we discuss mental health in residential care we still shift the focus to severe challenging behaviours. We document the referrals made and the steps taken with our local hospitals rather than look at ways to integrate evidence-based psychosocial strategies on-site.
This includes practical strategies in how to assist those clients who may experience grief and loss, adjustment difficulties and milder forms of the most common mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
This gap highlights the greater need to holistically improve the quality of emotional care delivery.
This includes focusing on incorporating strength building activities, such as reminiscence during care delivery, incorporating resilience skills in group programs and looking at the ways we can ensure that clients feel they are valued and contributing to society.
Strategies need to be:
- easy to learn and implement
- practical and easily transferable to real case scenarios
- used on a regular basis.
Trial new resources
I am developing a resource to help prevent and detect mental health issues among residents and provide non-drug interventions.
The manual provides a reference point in how to deal with day-to-day situations where clients are isolated, reluctant to use aids or where their mental health status is impacting their ability to adjust to living in care.
It also provides information on the outcomes of screening measures and when clients may require additional support, as well as strategies on how to work with families and maintain resilience in the workforce.
I am seeking volunteer aged care facilities to pilot this resource at no cost to providers.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Dr Julie Bajic Smith is an aged care psychology consultant.
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