Mental health first aid for the elderly

MHFA training for staff working in elderly care gives promising results

Objectives: Epidemiological studies have shown a high prevalence of mental illness among the elderly. Clinical data however indicate both insufficient detection and treatment of illnesses. Suggested barriers to treatment include conceptions that mental health symptoms belong to normal aging and lack of competence among staff in elderly care in detecting mental illness. A Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training program for the elderly was developed and provided to staff in elderly care. The aim of this study was to investigate changes in knowledge in mental illness, confidence in helping a person, readiness to give help and attitudes towards persons with mental illness.

Method: Single group pre-test–post-test design.

Results: The study group included staff in elderly care from different places in Sweden (n = 139). Significant improvements in knowledge, confidence in helping an elderly person with mental illness and attitudes towards persons with mental illness are shown. Skills acquired during the course have been practiced during the follow-up.

Conclusions: The adaption of MHFA training for staff working in elderly care gives promising results. Improvements in self-reported confidence in giving help, attitudes towards persons with mental illness and actual help given to persons with mental illness are shown. However, the study design allows no firm conclusions and a randomized controlled trail is needed to investigate the effectiveness of the program. Outcomes should include if the detection and treatment of mental illness among the elderly actually improved.

Full reference:  Bengt Svenssona & Lars Hansson, Mental health first aid for the elderly: A pilot study of a training program adapted for helping elderly peopleAging & Mental Health Published online: Feb 2016

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