Aged Care

New study reveals high antidepressant use among aged care residents


A new Australian study has revealed an alarming statistic – 6 out of 10 aged care residents are taking antidepressant medications.

Researchers are concerned this extremely high rate could be masking deeper issues around mental health support in aged care homes. The study by the Registry of Senior Australians looked at data from over 779,659 residents across 3,371 aged care facilities between 2006-2019. It found antidepressant use skyrocketed from 46% in 2006 up to 58.5% by 2019.

Lead researcher Georgina Hughes says this is much higher than rates in the wider elderly community living at home.

While antidepressants can help some people, they can also cause serious side effects like nausea, restlessness and sedation which raises fall risks.

The increased focus on aged care mental health following the Royal Commission may be driving some of the prescribing rise. However, Hughes cautions against solely relying on medication:

“Transitioning to living in an aged care home often has a big impact on a person’s life. Although antidepressants can have beneficial effects for some people, it’s important they are used for the right reasons and the right amount of time.”

“It’s really important that people living in aged care homes are accessing non-drug treatments that benefit their overall mental health and well-being and not solely relying on antidepressants.”

The researchers can’t conclude if the drugs are being overprescribed based on this data alone. However, the stark difference from the general population suggests a deeper look is needed at practises within aged care homes.

Further studies are now underway to understand how long residents can stay on antidepressants and assess potential safety concerns around their use in this vulnerable population.

“This study, along with other ROSA research, highlights a pressing need to improve the delivery of mental health care in aged care homes, including the safe and appropriate use of antidepressant medicines,” Hughes said.

Residents can access free medication reviews from pharmacists with a GP referral. But this latest data raises concerns that aged care mental health requires higher prioritisation overall.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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