Telehealth psychology can fast track access to mental health services for seniors.
As one of Australia’s largest in-home aged care providers in regional, rural and remote communities, integratedliving Australia is addressing long wait periods for mental health services for seniors by offering clients telehealth psychology.
With the challenges of COVID pandemic restrictions, the introduction of psychology telehealth ensured those who were abruptly subject to prolonged isolation could get faster access to much-needed mental health services. In fact, integratedliving Psychologist Britta Dietrich said one hundred per cent of her clients accessed her services through telehealth.
“Psychology telehealth can comprise of a phone call or a video conference,” Britta said. “It’s becoming more widely used since the pandemic as it makes these crucial services more easily accessible and convenient, especially for those with limited mobility, chronic illness or those living in remote areas.”
Mental health in seniors – reasons people seek telehealth psychology
Senior clients seek mental health assistance for a range of issues. These include:
- Adjusting to new life circumstances and health conditions
- Grief, including lost loved ones
- Pain management
- Neurological disorders.
For many seniors and members of the community living in rural and remote areas, addressing mental health is still riddled with stigma. Dismissing symptoms, turning to substance abuse or destructive behaviours is still very prevalent in Australian communities. Britta encourages those who are yet to try psychology services to consider telehealth psychology as a less intimidating way to address mental health needs in seniors.
“It’s very normal to feel anxious the first time you’re meeting a psychologist, so it’s always great just first off to be proud of yourself for trying something new,” Britta said. “You may have come to the realisation after trying to overcome something yourself that you could benefit from some extra help, rather than trying to cope alone all the time. It’s my job as a psychologist not to judge, but to offer empathy, observations, advice and treatment for your best interests and wellbeing.
“I help many of my clients through feelings of helplessness and identity changes,” Britta said. “We work towards a space of looking ahead to what our future self can be, who we would like to evolve into. This is a big mindset shift and takes consistency with therapy and lifestyle flexibility. It’s a highly rewarding part of my job observing moments where clients’ self-esteem and confidence becomes healthier through this process.”
Flexible and consistent care for mental health in seniors
Telehealth offers clients either video conferencing or phone-based telehealth appointments, and Britta said some clients prefer the phone. “For one of my clients, the phone call suits her better than a video call or face-to-face,” Britta said. “She feels secure in her home, less stimulated and less distracted, and more comfortable over the phone rather than using a computer.
We’re able to focus and remain calm while we talk through challenges. For this client, home is a safe space, whereas if they were in an unfamiliar clinic room, they might not feel as open.”
Taking the first step
Telehealth psychology is a confidential service. If you or someone you know over the age of 65 might benefit from this service (or over 55 years for Indigenous Australians), seek a Mental Health Care Plan referral from your General Practitioner. Alternatively, psychology services may be included in your funded Home Care Package, Commonwealth Home Support Programme or Short-Term Restorative Care program. For existing integratedliving Home Care Package clients, you can speak to your Case Manager to find out more. For people yet to join integratedliving but already registered with My Aged Care, you can request an ACAT assessment with My Aged Care to start the process of seeking funded psychology services.
Britta emphasised that telehealth often saved time in the process. “Typically, from the time a client receives a referral for psychology from their General Practitioner or through a Home Care Package, Short-Term Restorative Care or Commonwealth Home Support Programme funding, we can commence their first appointment as soon as a week later.”
For emergency mental health issues, always contact 000. For urgent mental health assistance for you or a loved one, available 24 hours a day, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Get to know your options – psychology telehealth over the phone or video call
Even before the pandemic stresses, integratedliving was running virtual programs to connect seniors to services. These virtual programs included virtual exercise, virtual activities and telehealth psychology. Uptake of the virtual services programs skyrocketed when border restrictions came into effect.
For some people however, they first needed to learn the basics of handling a smartphone or tablet computer to participate. integratedliving equipped clients with a tablet computer and introductory training to ensure access to virtual programs was not dependent on prior familiarity with internet technology or affordability.
For those who were looking for further digital learning, one of integratedliving’s most popular programs is Digital Dialogue.
“Our Digital Dialogue program now offers clients a robust overview of using a tablet computer with smart technology pre-programmed for video calls to connect with our virtual health and wellbeing programs,” Britta said. “It enables clients to connect socially with their loved ones and friends. This aspect of social connection is so important for mental health in seniors.
“Many of our clients comment on how their worlds have grown with video calling to connect with family and friends more often. They don’t have to wait for the in-person visits to speak with their grandchildren and feel part of their current lives. That builds self-esteem and a sense of belonging so needed as people age.”
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