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Helping vision-impaired seniors at risk of depression


PhD student Edith Holloway (left) and Dr Gwyn Rees (right)

Elderly adults with low vision who show signs of depression prefer ‘talking therapy’ rather than antidepressants, according to new research by CERA.

The study, published in the Australasian Journal of Ageing and led by Dr Gwyn Rees, screened 124 adults over the age of 60 for depressive symptoms when they visited low vision rehabilitation services. Thirty-seven per cent screened positive for signs of depression and took part in a follow-up telephone interview to determine which treatment options were most acceptable from a patient’s perspective.

The preferred treatment options were ‘talking therapy’ from a counsellor or psychologist (29%) and talking therapy in combination with medication (33%). Only 20% preferred medication alone and 18% chose no treatment. The most popular settings for talking therapy were in the patient’s own home (73%) or over the phone (67%). Around half reported they would be happy to receive sessions in a therapist’s office (56%) or a Vision Australia centre (46%).

PhD student Edith Holloway said, “Research has shown that older adults may be reluctant to seek professional help for depression, especially from mental health professionals. This is due to their own reservations (self-stigma) about seeking help for a mental health condition, as well as their perceptions of others’ negative responses (perceived stigma).”

The researchers believe that this may be why therapy in the privacy of a client’s own home was a popular choice. “Older adults have also reported a lack of accessible services, transportation problems and cost as barriers to seeking psychological support,” said Edith.

Only 7% of participants were in favour of therapy sessions over the Internet. “Although internet usage has increased among older adults in the last decade, concerns around privacy and security, a preference for personal contact and fear of being unable to correctly navigate and use the web remain barriers,” said Edith.

The study also found that characteristics including severe vision loss, a history of depression, previous treatment for depression and having a perceived need for emotional support were all associated with a positive screening result for depression.