Aged care residents face barriers to mental health treatment: study

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A Flinders University study has called for improved access to Government-subsidised mental health services in aged care, after finding fewer than 3% of residents with mental health conditions accessed treatment in 2016/17.

Using data from the Registry of Senior Australians (ROSA), the study analysed all non-Indigenous residents of 2,851 Australian aged care facilities between 2012 and 2017, and found that access increased only minimally across the five years; in 2016/17, only 2.4% accessed primary care mental health services, and just 2.3% accessed psychiatry.

According to the study’s lead author Dr Monica Cations (pictured, centre), aged care residents are four times more likely to have depression, and nine times more likely to have anxiety disorders, than the general population of older Australians.

“Difficulties for accessing mental health services was particularly pronounced for people with dementia, who were less likely than people without dementia to access any of the services, aside from psychiatry services.

“The under-identification and lack of non-pharmacological treatment of mental illness among people with dementia is a long-documented problem, partly explained by a widespread misbelief that people with dementia cannot benefit from non-pharmacological therapies,” she said.

Dr Cations says these findings highlight “major barriers to service access and uptake” of mental health services by aged care residents.

“These barriers, many of which were raised in submissions to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, include a lack of expertise among the workforce, complex mental health service arrangements and eligibility requirements, costs of transport and low priority given to mental health needs unless it was likely to disrupt care or was distressing for residents and staff.

“Our study indicates a need for significant and sustained organisational, policy and funding changes to improve access to mental health care for aged care residents,” she said.