The conversations of life

Do we need regular ‘depression screenings’ in our aged care homes? This expert says yes


At agedcare101, we often hear from people whose loved ones are struggling to adjust to aged care – often they have come into care after an illness or accident. Sometimes they are grieving a spouse. Often, they have left a family home where they have lived for many years.

It can be a very difficult time for both the resident and their family and carers and sadly, some people do become depressed and anxious and, in a few cases, even take their own lives.

This has been backed by a 2018 study by Professor Joseph Ibrahim and Monash University researcher Briony Murphy which found there had been 140 suicides in Australian aged care homes between 2000 and 2013.

Of the 140 cases, most were men (70 per cent). Only 30 per cent had reported they had trouble adjusting to life in an aged care facility, but 43 per cent had said they were experiencing loneliness.

Residents are screened for their physical and mental health when they enter aged care – out of these 140 cases, 66 per cent had already received a diagnosis of depression.

But 34 per cent had not.

Professor Ibrahim says between a quarter to a third of depression cases go unrecognised and untreated because many of us expect older people to experience temporary sadness when they move away from their home or family.

“It’s hard sometimes to separate out what is a reaction to those losses from clinical depression that needs treatment”, he told The Guardian.

The fact is depression is not normal for older people – and we can do something about it.

Professor Ibrahim is calling for more careful monitoring of depression on top of what is already carried out in aged care homes.

He is also recommending aged care homes introduce transition programs to help new residents adjust – an idea that has already been put forward to the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

Now, it’s important to note that many homes already closely monitor residents for signs of depression and other health issues – but if you’re worried about a loved one in aged care, you can raise the concerns with the facility and their GP.

If you’re unsure what the signs of depression are, visit HealthDirect. They’re a government-funded service that provides 24-hour quality, approved health information, services and advice and they have a list of symptoms here.

Finally, if this story has raised issues for you or a loved one, there is help available.

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
Beyondblue: 1300 224636
Mensline: 1300 78 99 78

A practising aged care physiotherapist for the past 13 years, Jill has worked in more than 50 metropolitan and regional aged care homes. She has also toured care facilities across the US and Africa. She is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff that serve them.

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