A focus on quality of life, education in self-care and social inclusion were three aspects of Deaf services that struck Leena Vuorinen during a recent study tour in Europe.
The aged care manager at Deaf Services is now determined to expand her organisation’s service offerings back home, based on the innovative ideas that inspired her in Finland.
“I learned a lot, it was amazing,” Ms Vuorinen told Community Care Review. “Deaf consumers are quite small in numbers in every country, but in Finland they enjoyed a lot of specialised services.”
In Finland, Ms Vuorinen’s home country, there are a handful of nursing homes solely for the Deaf (compared to none in Australia), while respite care is focused on wellness.
At respite centre Palvelukeskus Metsola, near the city of Jyvaskyla in the Lakeland area north of Helsinki, Ms Vuorinen was struck by the information sessions and physical activities on offer, the quality of the food, and the homeliness and sense of belonging the centre provided.
“I feel that we do quite well here, but it is clear in Europe that consumers are in the driving seat, guiding their home care providers in how they want to be supported,” said Ms Vuorinen, who moved to Australia 11 years ago.
Education in self care
Respite care was used as an opportunity to better educate clients in self care – how to eat and sleep well, and how best to manage their health concerns.
“They are like preventative actions that can delay the need for longer-term residential care.”
Ms Vuorinen was also fascinated to see people grouped according to their hearing ability.
“That made it easier to ensure that everyone’s communication needs were met, and activities were easier to run because the level of functionality was quite similar.
“At the moment in Australia we do not have the capacity to offer such respite care.”
Differences in care, as always, come down to resources. An older person in Finland can access funding based on their age and their disability at the same time, Ms Vuorinen explained. In Australia, meanwhile, you must be under 65 to apply for the NDIS; those over 65 receive support from the aged care system instead.
“Our aged care system doesn’t assess an older person’s needs on their disabilities, just their old age, and that is disadvantaging them.”
Social inclusion and healthy ageing
A doctor in social sciences, Ms Vuorinen’s focus has always been ageing.
“A human is a holistic entity. I want to promote healthy, active ageing, which means social inclusion but also independence, functionality, environmental safety and personal wellbeing.”
Deaf Services’ in-home care program for deaf and hard of hearing seniors, Ageing Well, is part of that. Available across Queensland since 2015, it has recently developed into NSW with plans for rollouts in other states in partnership with deaf services organisations.
Ageing Well aims to improve the quality of life, independence and wellbeing of clients through daily activities and social participation. These programs are delivered in Australian Sign Language (Auslan) with a consideration to the unique language and cultural needs of clients.
Inspired by the innovation she found in Europe, Ms Vuorinen is keen to improve the quality of Deaf Services.
Her main take-home message, she said, was the importance of wellness education.
“We want to share information on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and offer informative workshops to help promote that.”