When elderly people live in aged care, it’s presumed that they need physical and medical support beyond what can be done by themselves or their loved ones.
But what can often get overlooked in aged care is the prevalence of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
In statistics released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it was revealed that 46 per cent of people in permanent residential aged care on 30 June 2016 had depression.
And it was the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in aged care.
In addition to that, more than half, approximately 57 per cent, of the residents were diagnosed with a mental health or behavioural condition.
It is unclear whether if these residents were already diagnosed with depression prior to their entry into residential aged care, or they developed the condition after moving.
There are a number of reasons why a person in aged care may be struggling with depression or other mental health conditions.
For most aged residents, moving into aged care is a huge life change. They go from living in a home that they were based in for many years, to a new unfamiliar place with people they do not know.
Many residents move into aged care after the sudden death of a spouse – a challenging time as it is without having to be informed that they cannot remain in their own home.
If the person has not been well supported and given the adequate time to adjust to life changes, it can alter their mental health.
An overwhelming majority of people in aged care are dealing with frailty and other health conditions.
According to the statistics, dementia had been diagnosed in just over half of the residents. On top of that, there are other comorbidities that the residents are being treated for.
Being limited in what they can eat, how they can move or simply being told they cannot do activities that they used to take part in – when a person’s physical health deteriorates, it can take a toll on their mental health.
For some people, lifestyle changes develop more slowly – for example, a dwindling social life.
Some elderly people, regardless of how social they were in their younger years, find that as they get older their social circles become smaller.
Their partners or friends die, their kids move away or they simply lose touch with people they once knew.
Regardless of the reason, being alone can be bad for a person’s physical and mental health.
Last year, the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt revealed that 40 per cent of aged care residents received visitors year round.
Understanding the reason such a high portion of aged care resident are struggling with mental illness is one thing.
But what is more crucial is that those who a dealing with a mental illness have adequate support.
Supports and therapies needs to be offered as a way for people to cope in their later years of life.
Depression is no an inherent part of ageing, and it should not be treated or accepted as such.
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