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Collaborating with the arts


Molly Carlile, Austin Health

Molly Carlile, Austin Health

Residential aged care facilities should partner with local arts organisations to support their residents to age creatively, says palliative care expert Molly Carlile.

Ms Carlile, who is manager of Palliative Care Services at Austin Health, is presenting at an arts and health conference in Sydney next week on the need to improve how death is dealt with in Australian residential aged care.

More focus is needed on what goes on before dying because there is not enough emphasis on living well and ageing creatively in residential care, she said.

“The first thing residential care facilities need to be doing is engaging, partnering and collaborating with other organisations,” said Ms Carlile, who is also manager of Arts in Healthcare for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre at Austin Health.

Creating partnerships that are mutually beneficial is the way to go because a single organisation cannot be all things to all people, she said.

And facilities don’t have to have their own artist in residence or educate their staff to be artists, they just have to open the doors and engage with the many organisations in the community that want to be involved, Ms Carlile said.

“A lot of arts organisations have resident artists, students, or people who need to get placements to practice their craft and residential care is the perfect environment.”

Next week’s international arts and health conference has a focus on creative ageing and will feature best practice art and health programs, effective health promotion and prevention campaigns, project evaluation methods and research.

Ms Carlile is known as the Deathtalker for her work supporting people becoming informed about death and grief in order to live fully. Her upcoming presentation aims to give death a focus in life.

It is about how staff approach deterioration in residents, how they mark the death of a resident and how they help other residents come to terms with the fact that someone dies and a new person is in their place, she said.

“My presentation is predominately about how to re-engage with ritual, embrace ideas around legacy and look at resilience in residential care both for people who are living in a facility and for staff.

“Because of my background I am mostly going to talk about how we do that in a way that acknowledges people’s contribution and marks their death as something that belongs to everybody in the facility,” she said.

Ms Carlile said integrating the arts into conversations about death and dying provided a safe space for difficult conversations to occur.

“Everybody is able to engage in the arts. Just because you’re older and not as fit or as mentally agile as you were or don’t have the ability to go out and find the art, art can come to you. And art can give you a sense of connectivity to your community,” she said.

The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing 5th Annual International Arts and Health Conference is supported by the NSW Office for Ageing and runs from 12 – 14 November in Sydney.

Also presenting at the conference:

  • David Cutler, director of Baring Foundation, UK, on creative ageing in the UK
  • Gary Glazner, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project in the USA, on engaging elders through poetry
  • Kathryn Greiner, chair of NSW’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Ageing, on NSW’s whole of government ageing strategy
  • Dr Peter Sptizer, co-founder and medical director of Humour foundation, on humour and mishief in creative ageing.


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