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Mental health in aged care

Mental health is a core component of overall health and wellbeing, enabling people to cope with stress, achieve to their abilities, and contribute to their community. Mental illbeing occurs on a spectrum that includes mental distress, mental health conditions, and suicidal ideation and behaviour (World Health Organisation, 2021).

Older adults tend to report better mental health compared to working age and younger adults (Branchflower and Oswald, 2008). Nonetheless, mental illbeing remain common in later life.

The 2022 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing identified that 7.9% and 11.1% of men and women, respectively, aged 65 years and older have experienced a mental health disorder in the past 12 months (not including dementias) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020-2022). Older adults with a mental health condition are more likely to experience disability and reduced health-related quality of life (Proensky et al., 2009). In addition, men aged 85 years and older record the highest age-specific suicide rate of any group (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2024).

 

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Mental health in aged care service users

The Australian aged care system offers a range of services to meet the needs of older adults. Services range from supports to remain living independently at home through to full-time care in a residential setting.

There are three main types of service in the Australian aged care system continuum of care:

  • Home support (Commonwealth Home Support Programme), which provides entry-level services focused on supporting individuals to undertake tasks of daily living to enable them to be more independent at home and in the community.
  • Home care (Home Care Packages Program), which is a more structured, more comprehensive package of home-based support, provided over 4 levels ranging from basic care (Level 1) to more intensive care (Level 4).
  • Residential aged care, which provides support and accommodation for people who have been assessed as needing higher levels of care than can be provided in the home, and the option for 24-hour nursing care. Residential care is provided on either a permanent, or a temporary (respite) basis.

There are also several types of flexible care and services for specific population groups available that extend across the spectrum from home support to residential aged care. For more information on aged care services in Australia see the Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act, or visit the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

Older individuals accessing aged care services may be susceptible to mental illbeing because of the health and function limitations that lead them to access these services. In addition, approximately half of older adults using residential aged care services have dementia (Harrison et al., 2020), and many experience loneliness (Ogrin et al., 2021).

These changes in circumstances, health conditions, and other factors increase older individual’s risk for psychological illbeing. Understanding the mental wellbeing, prevalence of mental health conditions, and incidence of self-injury in aged care service users is important to establish needs and plan for policy and service delivery.

This web report provides a snapshot of what is known about mental health needs at the time of assessment for aged care services (i.e. prior to or at entry to care) and of deaths due to suicide while accessing aged care.

 

About this analysis

This analysis uses available data from aged care assessments and other data sources to describe the mental health of people using aged care services in Australia.

Included in this report were all people who accessed home care packages and/or permanent residential aged care from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2022.

People who did not receive any of these services but did receive other types of aged care (e.g. home support services funded by the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, transition care packages, respite care) are outside the current scope of this analysis and were excluded.