Improving Mental Health In Aged Care: The WiseMind Way

November 1, 2021

The mental health and wellbeing of our residential Aged Care community at The Royce is always a top priority—especially during lockdown restrictions. Introduced by the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network (NBMPHN) in 2019, the WiseMind program offers psychological therapy services for people living in residential Aged Care facilities.

The Royce has partnered with leading allied health care provider Generation Care to bring this program to our residents. We spoke to Registered Psychologist Michelle Ryan about how Generation Care is implementing WiseMind at The Royce and supporting the mental health of residents in challenging times and beyond.

Please tell us about Generation Care and the WiseMind program?

Generation Care is part of a wider organisation known as The Better Health Generation, and it was set up because of its ability to provide high quality aged care services. We work for the very specific population of people 65+ and Indigenous people 55+.

We work in the community and provide home care packages like the Commonwealth Home Support Package (CHSP), and for privately paid clients also. Our work also extends to residential aged care facilities.

What is core to the services you provide older Australians?

Our main goal is for individuals to be receiving high quality care and having timely access to care. A really big part of what we do is provide evidence-based care. This isn’t about going in and doing a massage—it’s about designing a plan with strength and evidence-based solution.

What are the allied health services that you provide?

Generation Care provides delivers several Allied Health Services including Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Psychology—which is where I come in as a Registered Psychologist. We also offer Speech Pathology and Exercise Physiology services.

In addition to allied health care services, you also bring the Nepean Blue Mountain PHM’s WiseMind program to The Royce…

Absolutely. Generation Care is the service provider of the WiseMind program, predominantly in delivering our psychology services. As a government-funded program, WiseMind was designed specifically for residents living in residential Aged Care facilities. Traditionally it has been difficult for people living in residential Aged Care to access Medicare-funded services through a Mental Health Treatment Plan—WiseMind was designed to address this with the support of government funding.

How do you deliver psychological therapy services as part of WiseMind?

Generation Care has been servicing The Royce since September 2020. Part of delivering the WiseMind program includes a psychological intervention program that is designed to prevent severe mental health conditions developing. It targets mild to moderate symptoms of common mental health presentation, or types of people who are at risk of developing a mental health disorder in the next 12 months. This is the main eligibility criteria for the program. But obviously, if someone does present with something severe, or doesn’t have any other access to services, we will always support them and provide care.

Has demand for the WiseMind program increased during NSW’s lockdowns?

The mental health needs of people in Aged Care have always been in high demand. The uptake of WiseMind was really strong when we first started. In response to COVID and the lockdown, the NBMPHN responded to the impact on mental health, increasing the sessions we provide from 11 to 20. Being with someone for a longer period of time allows us to address issues such as depression and anxiety—already quite common within the community and increasing with the extension of lockdowns.

How do these restrictions affect some residents in Aged Care?

One of the main things we’ve found during COVID is people don’t have access to those normal coping strategies. We can’t go for a walk, we can’t see our friends, we can’t go to school. These strategies have been taken away from us, so what can we do? It has meant that common mental health presentations of isolation and loneliness have been exacerbated further. It’s making things quite challenging.

What’s your advice on alternative coping strategies?

In the group sessions that I run, we’ve focused on supporting residents that are ultimately feeling locked out. Most recently, we’ve focused on stress management and strategies to help people when they feel isolated. To help reduce stress we explore things such as visualisation exercises and breathing techniques. People often

question whether breathing is going to help their problem… It won’t change the problem itself. But it allows us the cope with our problems in a much calmer headspace while improving our resilience.

And that’s what we really need during this time when we do feel out of control because of COVID. It’s not about working out how to overcome the situation because we can’t! It’s about how we can cope with the situation more effectively.

How can family and friends support their loved ones in residential Aged Care at this time?

Connecting with family and friends plays a major role in creating our sense of self and identity. For our loved ones in residential Aged Care, this is significant as they no longer have the familiarity of their home and local community. It’s wonderful we can access things like FaceTime and phone calls—but there are some fantastic alternative ways to maintain connections.

Are there alternative ways to connect with loved ones?

One of my favourites is creating a memory box for a loved one in residential Aged Care. It might involve each person in your family adding something special that reminds them of their loved one or simply including a selection of their favourite things. Pop everything in a cardboard box or shoebox and leave it with the front desk/reception for your loved one to pick up. It’s such a simple yet meaningful way to give residents that sense of connection with their family and friends. Alternatively, sending a handwritten postcard such a traditional and lovely way to maintain our connections.

Find out more the WiseMind program.

It’s Your Choice, The Royce. 

Or call 02-4744 6000 to speak with one of our friendly team members.