A new Flinders University study is exploring the barriers to older people accessing mental health services.

The five-year study Meeting psychological needs to improve the quality and safety of aged care is funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council and Medical Futures Research Fund Investigator grant.

In addition to  exploring barriers to accessing mental health services, the research will investigate innovative strategies to improve the quality and safety of aged care.

Lead researcher Dr Monica Cations said the study would examine ways to improve the psychological and emotional wellbeing of aged care recipients.

“The idea of the program is to learn more and provide the tools for aged care providers about how they can better identify and meet the psychological needs of older people who are accessing aged care,” Dr Cations told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“One of the aims of this work is to provide the tools and resources to equip aged care providers to better service those needs and recognise when psychological needs are not being met,” said Dr Cations, a provisional psychologist and epidemiologist.

The study is an extension of Dr Cation’s research investigating the key health impacts and aged care needs and experiences of senior Australians who grew up in out-of-home care.

Dr Monica Cations

It also aims to address the lack of knowledge and expertise about how to meet psychological needs of aged care recipients.

“We know that psychological wellbeing is neglected in aged care settings and that in general the aged care sector doesn’t have the skills that they need to meet these needs,” Dr Cations said.

Funding is one of the biggest barriers to aged care recipients accessing mental health services.

“Until very recently, people living in residential aged care were not eligible for Medicare funded psychological services like people in the community were,” Dr Cations said.

The government provided funding in the 2018 Federal Budget to address this area of need (read our story here).

Another barrier is the psychological and emotional wellbeing of seniors is  undervalued, Dr Cations  said.

“The aged care sector has worked from a medical model for a very long time, where the physical health of the person is the most important thing.

“But unfortunately we know that if we don’t support the psychological wellbeing of older people, it can affect their quality of life and  affect how they experience aged care,” Dr Cations said.

The research, which involves several elements, will work with the Registry of Senior Australians to look at trends in the use of mental health services by aged care recipients, she said.

It will also  focus on implementing new models of care that prioritise the psychological needs of older Australians.

Dr Cations said she would like to see her work help the aged care industry recognise the importance of these kinds of interventions and models of care.

“We’ve seen a positive shift away from the medical model towards a more wholistic model that considers emotional and psychological wellbeing but I think we have a long way to go,” she said.

The study is expected to end by December 2025.

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