Easing psychological distress for older rural patients

Psychological distress is acute for older people with multiple health difficulties in rural and remote areas of Australia, leading to higher health services use – but Flinders University researchers suggest that increased psychological screening in a clinical setting can help improve this situation.

Flinders University’s Dr Vivian Isaac (senior lecturer in rural mental health) and PhD student Dennis Asante led a team that has made key observations for improving access to mental health support for older people with other illnesses living in rural and remote Australian communities.

Dr Vivan Isaac. Lisa Hatz Photography.

Their study on psychological distress and health services usage among adults aged 60 or older in rural South Australia found that a significant proportion (13%) of people who participated in the study reported moderate to high psychological distress.

Psychological distress was higher in females – but lower among those aged more than 80 years.

Through evaluating the relationship between psychological distress, multimorbidity and health services utilisation, the study found that multimorbidity is highly associated with psychological problems, and that this distress increases with age.

Psychological distress is associated with high health services use.

As a solution to address this problem, Dr Isaac suggests that screening of psychological distress in older adults is required in clinical setting.

“In Australian rural environments, healthcare challenges such as poorer access to health services, inadequate healthcare professionals, particularly specialised care doctors and waiting times for clinical appointments are reported to affect the overall physical and mental wellbeing of rural locales,” says Dr Isaac.

“These healthcare challenges exacerbate for the rural older population who require complex health needs.”

The paper – “Psychological distress, multimorbidity and health services among older adults in rural South Australia,” by Dennis Asante, Josephien Rio, Fiona Stanaway, Paul Worley and Vivian Isaac – has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2022.04.140

The study employed a population-based survey of almost 6000 older South Australians in regional locations to investigate the prevalence of psychological distress in older adults (aged 60 and above) and evaluate the relationship between psychological distress, multimorbidity and health service utilisation in rural South Australia.

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Flinders Rural and Remote Health