The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Covid-19 - The elderly and their mental health

Saturday, 16 January 2021, 08:13 Last update: about 3 months ago

With more than 4,500 elderly people living in residential care homes, the government should be doing a lot more to ensure that their mental health and mental wellbeing are being looked after.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the mental wellbeing of the elderly in more than one way. It is not just the fear of the virus which would have an effect, but also the restrictive measures that are put in place in order to protect their physical health.

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Now care homes are doing the right thing by implementing measures to protect their residents against the virus.  But at the same time, more care for their mental wellbeing is needed. Indeed, the Commissioner for Mental Health pointed out this very issue recently, stating that further measures need to be developed to better care for the mental health and wellbeing of those staying in residential care homes.

The Office of the Commissioner made a number of suggestions as to what can be done to help out in the situation. These include helping the elderly stay connected virtually with their loved ones, providing clear explanations to the elderly about the current situation, that families and caregivers should be sensitive to their increased needs and encouraging the elderly to make use of support lines if they feel lonely or have other mental health issues.

This newsroom asked the Ministry for Senior Citizens and Active Ageing to detail what the government is doing to support the mental health of elderly people within residential care homes. The response shows that much more needs to be done.

Among other things, the ministry said that the Active Ageing and Community Care Group inludes a psychotherapist to support the mental health of the elderly people within residential homes. The Active Ageing and Community Care Group is a government led organisation which seeks the optimal wellbeing and quality of life for elderly people.

It aims to work with the elderly and support them so that they can continue to enjoy life to their maximal potential in their individual settings. The ministry addded that all residents living in government and public-private partnership residential care homes are able to avail themselves of this service. But does the ministry really believe that one psychotherapist is enough?

The ministry said that professional staff working in care homes refer particular cases to the psychotherapist who then handles the necessary required interventions in the residential homes. The psychotherapist liaises with the physicians and home managers accordingly. The ministry also said that residents may benefit from possible therapeutic interventions.

The reality is that a lot more needs to be done. It is a fact that elderly people are dying without being able to be with their loved ones. It’s likely that most, if not all, elderly people living in residential homes are currently experiencing heightened levels of loneliness and anxiety. The carers are working hard, but perhaps more psychological support needs to be offered, in addition to increasing the amount of virtual contact elderly residents can have with their family members.

The elderly living in residential homes need more specialists to reach out to them during these times, that way issues of loneliness, depression and others can be caught early and tackled more quickly.

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