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‘Older people with dementia need tailored talking therapies’

Older people with dementia must be able to access tailored talking therapies to tackle mental health issues, according to a specialist nurse

Older people with dementia must be able to access tailored talking therapies to tackle mental health issues, according to a specialist nurse.


Age UK has accused the NHS in England of 'failing' older patients with mental health issues. Picture: IStock

A new report by charity Age UK claimed that the NHS in England was ‘failing’ older patients with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, because of a lack of access to talking psychological therapies.

The Hidden in plain sight report showed that the NHS improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) programme, which helps people with mental health problems access talking therapies, was failing to meet its own target on referrals for older patients.

Health officials set a target of 12% of referrals to the IAPT programme for people aged 65 and over, but Age UK suggested only 6% of those referrals were for older people.

Dementia therapy 

The charity estimated it would take 15 years for the 12% target to be met.

Responding to the report, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust specialist clinical dementia nurse Valerie Freestone said it was important that people could also access talking therapies when they were diagnosed with dementia.

She added: ‘If people don’t get the right support, it is likely they will be more depressed and more anxious.’

But she said the therapy must be in a format suitable for older patients with dementia, and IAPT may not work if telephone and online consultations were offered.

Suitable format

If an older person with dementia has difficulty communicating, healthcare professionals can use tools such as music and photographs to help people express their feelings, Ms Freestone said. 

Age UK estimated there were about 3 million people over the age of 60 living with depression in the UK. The organisation called on the NHS to ensure plans were under way to improve access to such treatments across England.

It said older people usually responded well to talking therapies, and recommended that services were appropriately funded to deliver fully-integrated care that addressed mental and physical health and comorbidity.

Evidence base

RCN professional lead for mental health Ian Hulatt said: ‘The report makes it clear there is an evidence base for utilising talking therapies for older people with depression and anxiety, especially in the early stages of diagnoses.

‘There are nurses trained in cognitive behavioural therapy and other evidence-based interventions, but the issue is about whether people are actually able to access these services.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘For older people living with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions, psychological therapies can really help with the management of a range of conditions – and 4 million people have already benefited from them.

‘We are committed to going further, which is why we have introduced the first ever mental health waiting time targets to bear down on the unacceptable lengths of time it takes for people to get the treatment they need, and are boosting funding to enable 600,000 more adults a year to receive care by 2020.’

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