National survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Australian residential aged care residents and staff

Aida Brydon*, Sunil Bhar, Colleen Doyle, Frances Batchelor, Harry Lovelock, Helen Almond, Leander Mitchell, Maja Nedeljkovic, Steven Savvas, Viviana Wuthrich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: This study is the first to obtain data on the prevalence of, contributors to, and supports required for, pandemic-related distress within the residential aged care sector in Australia. A nested mixed-methods approach was used to examine aged care leaders’ opinions about the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of aged care residents and staff. 

Methods: A total of 288 senior staff of Australian residential aged care facilities (care managers, clinical care coordinators, and lifestyle team leaders; mean age = 52.7 years, SD = 10.3) completed an online survey between 10th September and 31st October 2020. 

Results: On average, nearly half of their residents experienced loneliness (41%) and a third experienced anxiety in response to COVID-19 (33%). The most frequently noted contributors to poor mental health among residents were restrictions to recreational outings and watching news coverage relating to COVID-19. Participants emphasized the need for increased access to counseling services and improved mental health training amongst staff. Residential care staff were similarly impacted by the pandemic. More than a third of staff were reported as anxious (36%) and 20% depressed, in response to COVID-19. Staff were worried about introducing COVID-19 into their facility and were impacted by news coverage of COVID-19. Staff would feel supported by financial assistance and by increased staff-resident ratios. 

Conclusions: Senior staff perceive that the mental health of Australian aged care residents and staff was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The most noted contributors were identified, as was the mental health support for aged care communities. 

Clinical Implications: This study provides government and policymakers with clear intervention targets for supporting the sector. Clinicians can support residential aged care communities by providing on-site or telehealth counseling, and upskill and train residential aged care staff on how to respond to the emotional needs of residents in response to COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Gerontologist
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • mental health
  • aged care
  • older adults
  • residential aged care

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