Stereotypes of ageing impact the attitudes and behaviour of both aged care staff and residents, and challenging these can be a way to create culture change within organisations, says an academic.
Associate Professor Lee-Fay Low, from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Science, encouraged the audience at the Future of Ageing conference on Monday to challenge stereotypes of older people and take responsibility for change within their own organisations.
Stereotypes of older people and ageing impacted resident’s self-perception and behaviour, and influence how others, such as aged care staff, expected them to behave. Together, these affected how aged care operated, said Associate Professor Low.
The environment of residential aged care, as a structured and formalised institution, “full of red tape, paperwork and hierarchy” also placed expectations on behaviour, she said.
A “good” resident was expected to not make a fuss, participate in activities, be happy and accept help. Similarly, staff were expected to fit in with others, offer help and be satisfied.
These expectations of behaviour were further strengthened by the fact that both residents and care staff had little power over the routine, meals, relationships and the environment within facilities, she said.
The repercussions of this were that residents often felt a loss of identity. “They feel loss of control and they struggle to maintain their independence,” she said.
However, Associate Professor Low said there was room for individuals to take responsibility to begin to facilitate cultural change within facilities.
Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda after her presentation, she said there had been a lag between the rhetoric of change and the reality of good quality care.
“My message is that we all need to act – even if we think the system is against us, the aged care system, the policies, procedures… we need to individually take responsibility and make changes,” she said.
The first step to achieving culture change was reflecting on attitudes and perceptions of ageing, which allowed for scope to see how things could be done differently. “If we change how we see older people, if we try to look beyond the stereotype, we see them as having potential. We see how they can be assets,” she said.
Cultural change also meant giving power, control, choice and responsibility to both staff and residents, she said.
Shift the power dynamic in facilities would provide scope for residents to act as volunteers within their own facility, or contribute to making the facility work better, such as sitting on an interview panel when recruiting staff.
Associate Professor Low said one method to building strong relationships was through goal-setting, which encouraged older people to think positively about the future and themselves.
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