Despite high rates of depression among older people living in residential aged care, access to psychologists in facilities remains poor, an Australian-first study has found.

The research 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.

While rates of depression and anxiety are high among residents, and despite the positive results of psychological treatments, psychologists and their services remain poorly accessed, the study found.

The findings echo long-standing concerns among professionals about a lack of access to psychological services in residential care. Nancy Pachana, a professor in clinical psychology who provides outreach to aged care services, previously told Australian Ageing Agenda that aged care needed better mental health services.

Late last year AAA reported on calls from other experts for more education and training for the aged care sector to care for those with mental health issues.

The new study is the first Australian research to investigate the accessibility of psychological services for older adults living in residential aged care facilities, the authors said.

When people became chronically ill or experience adjustments in life circumstances, they were more prone to depression and anxiety, said Associate Professor Sunil Bhar of Swinburne University.

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.

“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

Some 90 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 the 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.

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  1. Interested in providing counselling services to older people in RACFs and community as part of some work in the near future. Anyone interested?

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