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Getting a better understanding of residents’ palliative care needs


Villa Maria Catholic Home’s Sister Lorraine Testa with a resident

People with family in aged care are more likely than others to discuss a family member’s end-of-life care wishes with them, according to a national survey.

The nationally representative survey, which was conducted by JMS Research for Palliative Care Australia, involved 2,100 people, 12 per cent of whom have a family member in aged care.

It found that those with a relative in aged care were more likely to have talked to a family member about their end-of-life care wishes (35 per cent) than all respondents (24 per cent).

However, this falls short of the number of respondents overall who think people should talk to family about their wishes for end of life care (80 per cent) or plan ahead for their end of life care (74 per cent), according to the research released on Monday to coincide with the start of Palliative Care Week.

Palliative Care Australia CEO Liz Callaghan said the survey showed Australians were failing to prepare for the end of their lives.

“This survey indicates many Australians are still not comfortable talking to their loved ones and health professionals about their wishes if they were to become seriously unwell, or that the topic is not being raised with them by health professionals,” Ms Callaghan said.

As part of its program to help people talk about their end of life care wishes, aged care and disability service provider Villa Maria Catholic Homes has adapted the spiritual screening tool ConnecTo to better understand the palliative care needs of residents with dementia.

The ConnecTo resource, which was developed and launched by Meaningful Ageing Australia last year, is used at VMCH to help assess what gives a person’s life, and their end-of-life journey, meaning and purpose.

VMCH pastoral care practitioner Lorraine Testa has adapted the tool with images and behavioural observations to help identify the interests of a person with dementia who has lost their speech or reverted back to their native language.

“The use of images to illicit emotions and memories is really important to make spiritual care assessments and meaningful spiritual care plans,” Sister Testa told Australian Ageing Agenda.

There is “the need to employ other creative ways of collecting the vital information needed to provide relevant and meaningful assessments and activities,” she said.

“If a person is interested in nature, they will be surrounded by nature during their end-of-life stay,” Sr Testa said.

Allied health support

Also to help a resident’s palliative care journey, the Australian Physiotherapy Association is urging people to understand the importance of physiotherapy, which can reduce the severity of some symptoms experienced by residents with a life-limiting illness.

Elise Gane

APA spokesperson Elise Gane said physiotherapists could prescribe individualised, specific therapeutic exercises to treat side effects of medical management to maintain or maximise physical function.

“Performing thigh muscle strengthening exercises and balance training can maintain a palliative resident’s safety when being transferred from their wheelchair to a shower or toilet chair in the bathroom,” Ms Gane told AAA.

Training residential aged care staff and the prescription of aids and equipment including wheelchairs and four wheeled walkers are among other ways to safely assist aged care residents, Ms Gane said.

National Palliative Care Weeks runs from 20-26 May.

Resources to help people start a conversation about end of life care wishes are available here and palliative care resources for people working in residential aged care are available here.

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