Maintaining health and wellbeing as people get older is important and can dramatically impact on a person’s ability to remain independent and to experience a full life.
As people get older, they become more likely to experience ill-health, including much higher rates of chronic disease and injuries resulting from falls. As such older people are likely to benefit from preventative health services such as specialised exercise programs, falls prevention programs and guidance about how to maintain good nutrition.
Allied health and aged care
Allied health professionals are an essential part of the team that enables older people to function well physically, socially and emotionally and support them to live independently in the community. Allied health professionals use their specialised knowledge and skills to provide many services for older people.
- Interventions to promote healthy ageing and reduce the impact of chronic conditions and disabilities
- Rehabilitative care to support people to regain function and strength after serious injury or an illness such as stroke
- Strategies to support people to live independently in their own home
- Care co-ordination to assist people navigate the aged care system and make choices that are best for them
Allied health practitioners work in hospitals, rehabilitation centres, community health centres and in private practice. Older people can access allied health services in these settings as well as receiving services in their home or residential aged care facility.
Allied health professionals provide services independently, but will often work in multi-disciplinary teams to ensure older people have access to the full range of therapies and treatments they need to manage their health needs.
Optimising function and independence
Allied health professionals can provide a diverse range of interventions that prevent or slow the progression of conditions and empower older people to live full and active lives. Allied health interventions include assessment, diagnosis and therapies to enable people maintain mobility, hearing, sight, speech and swallowing, as well as advice on good nutrition. Allied health professionals also provide psychosocial interventions such as counseling and music and art therapy.
Allied health professionals can provide a broad range of services:
- Audiologists provide services for hearing impairment and fit hearing devices
- Occupational therapists can arrange modifications to the home that will minimise hazards, reduce the risk of falls and slips and create a safe environment that allows older people to be as independent as possible
- Optometrists and orthoptists provide services for low vision
- Podiatrists provide services for the foot and care of foot wounds
- Physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors can assist with musculoskeletal issues
- Exercise physiologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists can provide fall prevention programs to develop strength and balance
- Arts therapists and music therapists can provide services for people experiencing dementia
- Dietitians can advise on nutritional strategies to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or assess patients who may require specialised nutritional support and advice on tube feeding
- Dietitians also have an important role in advising on nutrition programs to monitor and meet the needs of residents in residential care facilities
- Speech pathologists can assist if a person requires assessment for assistance with speech and swallowing
- Psychologists and appropriately trained social workers or occupational therapists provide services for older people who have mental health needs.
Accessing allied health aged care services
The My Aged Care website provides a referral point for older people to access assessment and funding for the allied health services they need.
Allied health services provided in the community are funded through Medicare – a GP Chronic Disease Management Plan and referral is required. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs and private health insurance also fund allied health services. Some services may require a co-payment, as rebates may not cover the full cost of the treatment. Access to allied health professionals may also be available through community health centres and programs funded by Primary Health Networks.
Access to mental health services for older people is different if an older person is living in the community or if they are living in a residential aged care facility. For people living in the community, access is via Medicare-funded mental health services.