From residential and community aged care providers to sporting and cultural bodies, all community organisations need a charter for supporting our older citizens, argues Daniella Greenwood.
Recently the sector saw the release of the first National Guidelines for Spiritual Care in Aged Care, which provide a critical framework for meeting older people’s spiritual needs in residential aged care.
The guidelines recognise that spiritual support and expression is not limited to participation in monthly church services but is about the many things that create meaning in life – the relationships to people, spaces and things that leave us feeling connected.
The guidelines outline the importance of being heard, valued and cared for in the context of close, committed and consistent relationships. In other words, where there’s love, there’s spirit, always.
To me, the guidelines are not simply a roadmap for the industry; they are a critical first step for governing how we think about and include our older citizens, both as a society and as individuals.
Our cities are designed for the fit and the fast. We walk quickly, run laps and judge success by biology. We have big fences, our families and friends live far away and we drive long distances.
Our cities cater for active, independent people who are part of football clubs and running groups; they’re wonderful places for patrons of the arts and members of orchestras.
New residents lose lifelong connections
When people age or enter residential care, however, their phones very often become silent and visitor numbers dry up. The football club membership lapses and they become an afterthought.
Very few older people are offered lifts to opening nights or Saturday games, yet these are the same citizens who supported the groups that have now – in many ways –abandoned them.
I work in residential aged care and have been lucky enough to hear about the rich, amazing histories of the people who move in.
I hear stories about life-long patronage and involvement in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Richmond Football Club, and various other social, arts-based, political, cultural, sporting, hobby or activist groups, and also the faithful memberships to churches, synagogues, and charities.
Yet, I see so few of these clubs and organisations reaching out to their elderly lifelong members.
Our population is getting older; the groups and clubs that benefitted from lifelong membership and support from their increasingly ageing members will no longer be able to abandon them.
The narrative about older people being “yesterday’s audience” will need to change. Clubs will have to ask how they can keep their elderly citizens involved and connected with their lifelong interests.
A shared responsibility
In residential care, the reliance is on the operator to organise all activities that offer spiritual meaning. We aim to do this well and with joy, and the release of the guidelines will mean that we continuously raise the bar. But responsibility needs to be shared.
Life should not be about the “before” and “after” someone got old, there needs to be a continuum.
For groups and clubs, there needs to be a focus on maximising the inclusion of all citizens – regardless of their age or where they live.
Groups should start implementing this now, creating a plan and charter for the spiritual guidelines they will follow as an organisation in relation to ageing members and supporters, and they need to commit to following through.
For older people who choose to stay at home over entering an aged care facility, the issue of support and continuity will become even more important.
The push for increased take up of home-care packages for older people offers an alluring promise of lifelong independence, but our suburbs and societies are fragmented – we’re not designed for this.
While independence seems attractive, it comes with the risk of isolation and loneliness, despite the best efforts of home care providers to fill those gaping holes that are left by a society that values youth.
As individuals, this is why it is so important to know who lives down the road? Do they need assistance? Are they lonely?
Do we each have our own set of guidelines, our own charter, for how we include and support older people in our streets and suburbs?
It might take a village to raise a child, but this village also needs to pitch in at the end. It’s the commitment that we need to make as good fellow citizens, for our own sake.
Daniella Greenwood is strategy and innovation manager at Arcare, and was on the expert advisory panel for the National Guidelines for Spiritual Care in Aged Care.
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