Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA MAR-APL 2018 Contents Tim Nayton
Effective communication and engagement is key
RESEARCH SHOWS that social isolation is worsening in
many parts of society, especially among older people.
While most data tends to report on social isolation in
the community, people entering residential care are
also at risk.
You could be excused for assuming that by bringing
a group of people together residential care facilities are
naturally socially inclusive environments. There is also the
perception of a commonality among residents, as they’re
all older. Nothing could be further from the truth: seniors
are like all other age groups, coming from all walks of life.
The concept that communal living happens naturally after
decades of an individual living independently and as part of
a broader society simply isn’t the reality.
Despite the best efforts of aged care organisations,
entry into residential care is often a dislocating experience
where an older person moves from a known home
environment to a facility where there can be many new
people. This sudden change commonly occurs due to an
accelerated decline in health and loss of independence.
Coupled with a sense of loss of identity and the presence
of psychological and cognitive decline, this can heighten
the risk of social isolation.
The good news is that a multitude
of approaches can address this risk. The
new resident must be able to retain their
identity not as just a person entering the
final stages of life but as someone who
has lived a rich life. Educating staff in how to effectively
communicate is essential to ensure they engage with
residents in ways that draw out who they are.
Physical layouts to enable small group living and
to cluster similar socio-cultural residents help facilitate
bonding and friendship.
Enrichment and lifestyle programs encourage
participation and meet the needs, and wants, of residents.
Ensuring the facility is physically inviting and that staff
encourage family participation is hugely important. This
cannot be overstated to minimise a typical pattern of a
progressive decline in the frequency of family visits.
Finally, an active volunteer program is important
to support lifestyle programs and include one-on-one
companionship. Just sitting and reading or talking to a
resident can create a sense of connectedness.
Tim Nayton is general manager, retirement and ageing
at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
Invest in staff, new care approaches
THOSE OF US who work in the industr y know that
while family engagement and visitor levels var y greatly
across facilities, there are always some residents who
receive few or no regular visitors.
Our work in rural and remote areas often challenges
traditional perceptions of small communities: we
think they’re likely to be more close-knit yet this is
sometimes not the case, with the ser vices in more
remote communities having the highest number of
Loneliness, unlike social isolation, is by definition a
subjective negative feeling and the research has proven
it affects our physical and mental health, with clear links
to depression and development of dementia, to name
just two. Therefore, it’s something we should all be
concerned about, particularly as we age.
From our own longitudinal study of residents and
their quality of life (LifeTIME), conducted by the
University of Sydney, we can say its true those residents
who have daily or ver y frequent contact with family are
often happy and settled in the facility. But it isn’t always
true that those who don’t have this level of contact
feel lonely or unhappy. Loneliness isn’t always about
how many visitors you have, and is a ver y individual
experience. The study underlined the importance
of connection to the community, and the quality of
relationships with staff and other residents.
Our MyLife relationship-based care
approach tackles resident loneliness and
improves how we support wellbeing
generally. Our dedicated carers and care
teams spend a lot of time getting to
understand what makes each resident tick.
The information is used to tailor activities to the
individual, improve daily social interactions and assist
with forming friendships.
The challenge is to understand what will really make
the difference to that individual. For one resident the
solution was the home’s pet Chihuahua whose daily
companionship transformed his experience of care. For
another it’s been about the opportunity to interact with
children coming in on a regular basis to sing in choirs
and participate in creative projects.
The most powerful way for government to support
providers in this area is to recognise the importance
of tackling loneliness, and ensure funding structures
encourage more individualised social care.
It takes time, effort and creativity to ensure we
support our residents in the right way. This involves
continual investment in staff skills and trialling new
approaches to care.
Karn Nelson is executive general manager strategy and
innovation at The Whiddon Group.
20 | MARCH – APRIL 2018
We asked three industry figures:
What can we do to tackle loneliness among
residents in aged care?
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