A national study involving a consortium of researchers is exploring the impact COVID-19 is having on the mental health of residents and staff at Australia’s 2,700 aged care homes.

The study, which will be conducted through an online survey, will also investigate which COVID-19-related factors are having the greatest impact as well as what mental health support is needed for this cohort.

The project, which involves researchers from Swinburne University, Mental Health Australia, the National Australian Research Institute, Queensland University and Macquarie University, is seeking input from residential aged care facility managers, clinical care coordinators and lifestyle team leaders.

Lead researcher Professor Sunil Bhar, who is co-director of Swinburne’s Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults, said the survey aimed to fill a current gap in knowledge about the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of residents and staff.

“Without such data, we cannot know how widespread mental health difficulties are within the sector, what aspects of the COVID-19 crisis have been especially troubling for residents and staff, and what can be done to better support the mental health of residents and staff,” Professor Bhar told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Professor Sunil Bhar

There are currently mixed reports about mental health in aged care, he said.

“Some facility managers have observed that residents and staff feel anxious and depressed, while others report that residents and staff appear unaffected by the crisis,” said Professor Bhar, who is also director of the National Telehealth Counselling Service for Aged Care.

“Anecdotally, we hear that residents are feeling very isolated, saddened and anxious about not seeing family, and being removed from the routine interactions within aged care homes. We also hear that staff are extremely worried about inadvertently infecting residents,” he said.

Professor Bhar said the researchers wanted to hear from a representative from every residential aged care facility in Australia.

“The more responses we have, the more representative our data will be about the experiences of residents and staff in the residential aged care sector across Australia,” Professor Bhar said.

The survey closes on 18 October.

Find out more information and participate here.

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