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Friday, December 8, 2023

Older adults’ mental health the focus of newly funded screening tool

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A new tool to provide mental health screening for older adults and enable early interventions is being developed thanks to funding provided by The Ian Potter Foundation.

A research team from Macquarie University, in partnership with Sydney North Primary Health Network have received $587,103 to build and evaluate a tool to better identify and treat older adults with depression, anxiety, social isolation and loneliness.

One in five older Australians are now experiencing loneliness.

The ageing population combined with growing numbers of older people living alone (23 per cent of older men, 40 per cent of older women) and decreasing participation in social groups such as clubs and religious groups, is leading to growing numbers of older adults at risk of mental health issues.

This project has the potential to identify older adults in need much sooner, and get them the help they need.”

Professor Viviana Wuthrich

Compounding the problem, national surveys showing the over-65 age group receives the lowest rates of help for mental health (fewer than 23 per cent).

To tackle the under-identification and undertreatment of mental wellbeing in older adults, the five-year project will be led by Professor Viviana Wuthrich and a Macquarie University team including Professor Simon Willcock, Professor Mike Jones, Dr Henry Cutler, and Dr Carly Johnco who will work closely with the Sydney North Primary Health Network.

This project has the potential to identify older adults in need much sooner, and get them the help they need.

The tool will be codesigned with older people and will be used in primary care to better detect risks to wellbeing, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, loneliness and social isolation.

The resource will assist GPs to treat these problems using evidence-based practice.

Wuthrich said the project builds on over a decade of work on older adult mental health.

“It is exciting to see the real-world application of our research come to life,” he said.

“This project has the potential to identify older adults in need much sooner, and get them the help they need.

“Older adult mental health has been a neglected area for too long, and this generous support from The Ian Potter Foundation will help us to pave the way to new methods of care for older Australians.”

Charles Goode AC, chairman of The Ian Potter Foundation, said the translational research project meets very well with the foundation’s public health funding objectives, addressing an issue of great concern for older Australians.

“While this trial is being undertaken in NSW, the tool has the potential to be rolled out to other Australian states and territories and be integrated into standard practice an as annual check for the prevention and early identification of mental health conditions in older Australians,” he said.

Wuthrich claimed older people want to know how to age well, understand risks to their wellbeing, and to have choices about how to address them.

“With increasing numbers of older people isolated and living alone, it is easy for their mental health needs to be missed,” he said.

“Older adults make very valuable contributions to our community, and their health and wellbeing is good for everyone.”

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