Swinburne University’s Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults has launched a free national telehealth counselling and support service aimed at supporting older Aussies living in residential aged care.
Launched earlier this month, the service is available nationwide and available to aged care residents and their families as well as aged care workers.
Approximately half of all aged care residents exhibit symptoms consistent with depression, and typically those who reside in aged care facilities have low mental health literacy, so identifying issues can be problematic.
This may well be magnified as aged care lockdowns have occurred nationwide and the elderly have less social contact with the outside world.
“Many aged care facilities across the country have imposed very tight restrictions on face-to-face visits as a safety measure to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections, and we anticipate that this will result in increased feelings of anxiety, loneliness and isolation among residents, their family members and aged care workers,” says the clinic’s co-director, Professor Sunil Bhar.
Aged Care Insite spoke with Aida Brydon who is a Swinburne student and one of the clinic’s provisional psychologists.
ACI: How are you finding doing the therapy over Zoom or Skype?
AB: I’ve actually found it really good so far. I’ve been seeing a few people through a video phone, over the telephone. Some of the other clinicians have been using the telephone more frequently, but I’ve been using video just because that’s what my clients prefer. [They see] a face, and I think it also makes it a lot easier for people with maybe hearing difficulties, seeing my mouth moving as well.
I’ve found it a really valuable learning experience. And a lot of the time when I’m in the telehealth sessions, I can get to the point where I feel like I’m with the person, like there’s not a barrier between us.
What about this particular cohort? I think it’s fairly safe to say that people who are in residential aged care or around the age are not predisposed to going to counselling or therapy. How are they finding therapy first off?
That’s a really good question. So I guess it’s very different for different people. I guess the cohort is really heterogeneous in way. So a lot of people have different presentations, they’ve got different histories. Some people have experienced counselling their whole life. And then when they get to a residential care facility, it’s something that they’re more continuing rather than trying for the first time.
Other people have been referred by somebody within the facility. In that case, all the people that I work with consent to therapy and want it. So I wouldn’t really be working with somebody who didn’t want to receive therapy.
A lot of the time there are some negative stereotypes in general, from what I’ve heard, about therapy in older generations. And to bust those myths a bit, when you start working with people, [we] find out what their thoughts are around therapy, what the expectations are and seeing where they’re coming from.
Are there any particular themes that are popping up for this cohort and particularly around living in residential care?
Firstly just like younger people, older adults can have a range of different mental health problems. In particular though, things like losses associated with transitioning to residential aged care or that kind of adjustment to living in aged care, having uncertainty about the future. Coming to terms with a bit of a decline in personal autonomy and health pop up and are more likely to, I guess, exacerbate or make them more likely to experience depression or anxiety.
Then there are a lot of other things like loneliness or a lack of social support. Those kinds of things, with coronavirus and the lockdown, are really being exacerbated too. I guess also a sense of feeling like a burden to society. Those kinds of things are being expressed more and more often with all of this stuff going on.
And I think it is a bit more particular to that cohort, in particular around this area of feeling like all of these people have been in lockdown and it’s to protect us and it’s because of us. And it’s a burden in a way.
How are they with the current situation? Are they feeling that acute loss of autonomy? Are they scared of COVID-19?
I guess some people are aware of it and frightened by it. On the other hand, there’s also some people who are aware of what’s going on but still experience activities being cancelled in the past and less connection with your friends and family. I think other people are also frustrated by the lockdowns as well. I’ve experienced quite a variety of responses to that in terms of how they feel about the lockdown.
How will this run in the future and how can aged care homes sign up?
The wellbeing clinic has already been running in-person free counselling. We’re hoping to keep both options open as well so we can ideally reach more people. Also, in times where there are lockdowns because of flu or gastro or maybe even rural areas that lack access to this kind of stuff, we’ll be able to provide [support] to them.[Residential facilities] can make referrals for their residents. We’ve got a website.
It’s also available for carers. So if they were a staff member and they felt overwhelmed by caring for their resident or if felt like they could help with some extra support, we can also offer free counselling to them too.Do you have an idea for a story?
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