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Residents of aged care facilities would benefit from routine mental health checks

Photo: Health Times Magazine
Access to mental healthcare should be readily available and regular psychological assessment routine within aged care facilities, as increasing numbers of elderly residents present with depression and anxiety issues.

Along with increasing rates of mental health challenges among the elderly, diagnosis is often delayed or even missed, with short-staffed teams failing to notice key signs.

“We often stereotype our aging population and many presenting symptoms go unnoticed,” says psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip. 

“Those in later life do not always discuss their emotional well-being as they tend to downplay symptoms.

“Some mental health issues can be mixed with declining health therefore become overlooked.”

The aging population can experience a range of physical, mental and psychological conditions including dementia, depression, anxiety, insomnia and degenerating body ability.
When confined to aged care facilities, they also can face isolation from community, friends and family.

“As we age, we usually become more proficient at regulating emotions, however, we do see the presentation of depression for many residents living in aged care facilities.

“This may also be connected to mental health issues experienced during earlier stages of life.

“Many elderly are at a higher risk of suicide and depression if they lose their life partner.

“Most of these individuals have experienced this due to death or separation from their partner after admission into the facility.

“Therefore, support and counselling is essential to assist them to cope with these life adjustments and changes.”

While these risks are associated with the elderly generally, when it comes to those living in aged care facilities, the risks are even higher.

“Boredom, lack of physical ability and movement options, disconnection with friends and family members, feeling disparaged, and forgotten.

“Ongoing communication and assessment are essential for the ongoing care of all individuals in an aged care facility.

“We must recognise them as continued valued members of our community.

“Assessment with ongoing cognitive therapy would greatly benefit many residents.”

But as they say, prevention is better than cure and Dr Philip believes aged care facilities could be doing more to prevent depression and anxiety among residents.
“We know when we feel no purpose, we decline mentally and physically.

“While some facilities have basic entertainment for residents, it seems most are not hitting the mark for the type of activities where residents could thrive.

“Debates and discussions are a wonderful method to stimulate anyone’s mind and body, albeit politics, sport, current events or world views.

“Regular playing of uplifting music to move and even dance is enriching to both body and mind.

“Spending time speaking and sharing experiences with children, both young and older, as we all love to discuss our life events.

“Ongoing age appropriate communication is essential.”

These activities can also assist following the diagnosis of mental health issues.

“Stimulating both body and mind is known to alleviate many aging issues as we move outside of our self into a more stimulating area.

“Feel good hormones are released, communication is enhanced, relevance is felt, and a degree of purpose is experienced. Movement and exercise are hugely beneficial.

“Our aging population are human beings that have lived active productive lives, been integral members of the community, worked hard, raised families and hold a wealth of information to share.

“Only when we start to recognise their continued value will they feel appreciated and recognised instead of elapsed.

“These feelings can help alleviate many mental and emotional health issues.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.