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  • Call for psychology student trainees in aged care

    Author: Karen Keast

Psychology postgraduate student trainees could improve the mental health and functioning of older people living in residential aged care facilities while reducing the use of pharmacological treatments, under a proposal from the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

In its 2017-2018 pre-budget submission, the APS has called for the Federal Government’s support to launch a 12-month trial for psychology students, who are training in courses such as clinical psychology, health psychology and clinical neuropsychology, to provide psychological assessments, as well as mood and behaviour management interventions for residents, under supervision.

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The initiative, designed to improve access to psychology services in aged care, also includes training for aged care staff in behaviour management.

The proposal comes amid revelations that government-funded residents of aged care facilities are being denied access to vital Medicare-funded psychological treatment under the Better Access Scheme.

Studies show the incidence of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety is higher among people living in aged face facilities compared to those living in the community.


Chief Executive Officer
Alexandra District Health
Registered Nurse - Aged Care
Bentleys Queensland
Registered Nurse, Mana Awhi – Older People's Health
Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand: Te Toka Tumai Auckland

In its submission, the APS states mental illness and disruptive behaviour among aged care residents is often treated with psychoactive medication ‘which has undesirable side effects and is expensive to provide and monitor’.

‘Psychological assessment and intervention for older Australians have been shown to be effective in managing mood disorders and disruptive behaviour, and to improve quality of life for residents as well as reducing costs for the facility by decreasing the need for pharmacological interventions', it states.

‘However, there is currently extremely limited access to psychological assessment and treatment for people living in aged care facilities.’

APS executive director Professor Lyn Littlefield OAM said evidence shows several psychological treatments are effective for treating anxiety and depression in older people but pharmacological treatments are most often being used to treat mental illness.

“This is most likely because it is very difficult for doctors to access psychological care for residents. Yet the use of such medication quite often produces unpleasant and unnecessary side effects,” she said.

“There is also the erroneous beliefs that depression and anxiety in aged-care can be considered ‘normal’ and that frail older adults with dementia or other chronic disease are not suitable for psychological treatment.

“Elderly Australians deserve the dignity of equal access to best practice mental health care to achieve quality of life.”

In its submission, the APS states the pilot would also alleviate the critical shortage of placement opportunities for psychology postgraduate training programs, provide more career opportunities for professional psychologists working in aged care, and work to attract more psychologists into the sector.


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords