Depression is not a normal part of ageing; it is a serious medical illness that negatively affects a person’s feelings, thinking, behaviour and physical state.

Although many older people in hospital have depression, it is often not recognised or responded to. Untreated depression can slow recovery and increase the risk of an older person experiencing problems with medication management, under-nutrition and reduced mobility and self-care while in hospital and on discharge.

Most older people in hospital who have mild depression will respond to simple practical interventions such as listening, explaining and reassuring.

This topic gives an overview of depression, its causes, symptoms and interventions. In addition to following health service policy and procedures, consider the following actions and discuss them with colleagues and managers.

All Australian hospitals are being accredited under The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare’s (ACSQHC) National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standards. Each of the ten standards relate to optimising clinical care and better outcomes for all patients. While identifying and responding to depression is not directly referred to within the NSQHSS, this topic highlights the need to approach the clinical issues older people face in hospital in a holistic and person-centred way in order to identify and respond to multiple modifiable risk factors. Doing this will improve our systems, clinical care and, ultimately, the outcomes of older people to identify and respond to cognitive impairment (A better way to care: safe and high quality care for patients with cognitive impairment in hospital), prevent falls and harm from falls (standard 10), and improve medication safety (standard 4).

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