Media release: 16 January 2017

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) strongly supports recent calls for residents of aged-care facilities to have improved access to Medicare-funded psychological treatment for mental illness.

APS Executive Director, Professor Lyn Littlefield OAM, says it is an issue of equity of access.  “If residents were living in the community they could access psychological treatment under Medicare, but because they need residential care they are excluded from receiving best practice care,” she says.

Government-funded residents of aged-care facilities are excluded from Medicare-funded psychological treatment because they are meant to be provided with access to a psychologist by their facility, but in reality this access is extremely limited, with less than one per cent of aged-care residents receiving any kind of psychological treatment. 

The incidence of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety is much higher among people living in residential care facilities than in the wider community. 

Professor Littlefield says there is good evidence for the effectiveness of several psychological treatments for both anxiety and depression in the elderly, but that currently in aged-care facilities when mental illness is identified the most likely treatment is pharmacological.

“This is most likely because it is very difficult for doctors to access psychological care for residents,” says Prof Littlefield.  “Yet the use of such medication quite often produces unpleasant and unnecessary side effects.”

“There is also the erroneous beliefs that depression and anxiety in aged-care can be considered ‘normal’ and that frail older adults with dementia or other chronic disease are not suitable for psychological treatment,” she says.

In its 2017 – 2018 Pre-Budget Submission, the APS called for the Government’s support to implement a 12-month trial of supervised placements in residential aged care facilities for professional psychology postgraduate students to provide, under supervision, psychological assessments, and mood and behaviour management interventions for residents as well as training for facility staff in behaviour management.

“Elderly Australians deserve the dignity of equal access to best practice mental health care to achieve quality of life” says Prof Littlefield.

December 2016 APS InPsych Bulletin: Psychology and older adults

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For more information, or to arrange an interview call Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or email  Find the APS Media team on Twitter:  @AustPsych.

The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 22,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.