Aged care and mental health

According to the Aged Care Royal Commission, over half of permanent aged care residents experience symptoms of depression. Whilst this is alarming news, we need to look closer at the statistics and ask the important question  – what is the link between aged care and mental health?

The previous time this study was completed, about 35 per cent of aged care residents suffered from depression. And an equivalent study in the aged population in general recently showed a much lower percentage of depression.

Aha, you say! It shows that depression is going up and is higher for people living inside nursing homes. So the nursing homes must be at fault.

This might be part of the picture, but it is important to remember that it is only part. There are usually many more factors involved.

It is true that many nursing homes have outdated lifestyle environments that are more in keeping with the homes we remember from our grandparents days, with long bleak corridors full of shuffling slippers and plastic coated tables in the dining room with mushy peas on unbreakable melamine plates.

Yep, that does sound depressing. That’s one of the core reasons we designed Glenvale Villas to be a completely different experience. More like a retirement village with care, where each resident has their own fully self contained home, complete independence and a front door key to come and go as they like. In other words, just like their real home.

But back to those rising depression rates.

We also need to remember that many people enter aged care because they can no longer look after their homes or themselves. With increased external services and longer health, our older population is entering aged care later than ever before, so most will have some frailty and a few will have advanced illnesses. Therefore a higher percentage of Australia’s aged population with health issues live in nursing homes, skewing the results. So it’s only natural that these people will experience some type of depression.

What’s important is how the aged care facilities deal with this. The old days of isolation, loneliness and waiting-to-die clock watching are no longer acceptable. But advanced nursing care is also not the answer.

A meaningful life needs more.

Nursing homes are obviously artificial environments, creating the semblance of a normal life but coating it in restrictions and procedures. Choice, impulse and freedom are removed and replaced with safe alternatives that can be controlled. Real movement is replaced with diversionary therapy.

One particular nursing home allowed their residents a day trip to an RSL but forbid dancing, in case of a fall.

All this strips away the sense of independence. Part of what defines us is our ability to choose. It is what we remove from prisoners when we restrict their freedom. Are nursing homes really any better than that?

Reversing a downward spiral for aged care and mental health.

Depression in aged care has a very clear knock-on effect. The same report showed residents with symptoms of depression also had higher care needs.

Is it any wonder?

Depression can lead to suppression of appetite, apathy to socially connect or integrate, negativity, isolation – the list is endless. The old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ may be a cliché but it is built on truths. Those who have a good quality of life and are well adjusted tend to be healthier and happier.

Glenvale Villas recognises that this quality of life is just as important as good nursing care. Our community is built on independence and freedom, with a flexible safety net of care and support, which can change as our residents’ needs change.

The result is a much happier community, where our residents feel like they are still in charge of their own lives. And that makes all the difference.