New mental health brochure: What to do when older people feel sad


AAG has released a new resource for aged care support workers on what to do when older people feel sad.  The resource is quick and easy to read and provides examples of what support workers can do and say to support older people who feel sad.

This resource was developed for AAG by Dr Sarah Russell, Principal Researcher at Research Matters and an aged care and mental health advocate, in consultation with older people and aged care support workers.  There was a particular focus on getting the language and the tone of the brochure right.  Health and aged care professionals and academic experts provided guidance to ensure that the content was appropriate and reflected the current evidence on older people’s mental health.

The planning stages of this project were led by an expert reference group of 30 AAG members and other mental health specialists working across a range of aged, social and health care settings in Australia.  In the early stages of the project, international resources were reviewed and it was found that there was a lack of concise and accessible resources for support workers, with the majority of resources targeting on mental health experts (e.g. health and allied health professionals) or older people themselves.

“After reviewing available resources, speaking to experts and frontline workers, AAG identified that providing guidance on what to do when older people feel sad was needed”, says AAG CEO James Beckford Saunders.

During the consultation process older people expressed diverse views on what they wanted from their support workers.  These diverse views are best illustrated with two recipients of a level 4 home care package.  One lived alone, the other lived with her husband.  The woman who lived alone valued support workers who listened when she felt sad.  She wanted a support worker to say: “I notice you are not yourself today. Would you like to talk about it?”   The other recipient did not want to talk with a support worker about her feelings.  She wanted the support worker to clean her  house, do the shopping and prepare her meals.  She said she would prefer to speak with her  husband about feeling sad than a support worker.

A resident in an aged care home said it was difficult for staff to notice any changes in his behaviour because he “rarely saw the same staff twice”.  He said the home relied heavily on agency staff.Another resident described staff being too busy to have “in-depth conversations” with her.

A resident in an aged care home described being gobsmacked when a staff member “with a clipboard” used a questionnaire to assess the levels of depression of all the residents in the lounge room. She suggested these conversations should have taken place in a private part of the aged care home without other residents and visitors listening.

“In developing this resource, we learnt that it is important to tune in to the person you are working with and noticing their mood and any changes and behaviour, and then talking to them about it in an informal way, but only when they want to.”, says AAG CEO James Beckford Saunders.

“This AAG brochure on what to do when older people feel sad is an easy-to-read and concise resource that provides practical guidance and helps support workers navigate difficult conversations”, says AAG President Associate Professor Marguerite Bramble.

Click here for more information and to view the brochure

This brochure is part of a larger body of work at AAG focussing on mental health and wellbeing in older people.

For further information

Please contact AAG for more information

The author, Dr Sarah Russell, is available for interview. Please contact Chloe for more details