An aged care provider is offering a program where older people can create an e-book of their lives as part of a suite of interventions targeting ageing veterans.

The Life Stories Project, developed by the Bolton Clarke Research Institute (BCRI), gathers biographical information via a series of interview sessions, and participants and their families are encouraged to contribute photos, letters and other memorabilia.

“We get volunteers to come in and speak with the veteran and to talk about their life,” BCRI Research Fellow Dr Marissa Dickins told Community Care Review.

“It’s a really lovely way for the resident to talk about their life and the things they’ve experienced. It helps staff get to know them better, and we come up with these gorgeous printed books as well.”

Veterans face unique challenges

Marissa Dickins

Dr Dickins says veterans have specific needs as they age, with about 20 per cent estimated to have met the criteria for PTSD in their lifetime.

“Veterans do have quite a specific set of needs as they age, particularly those who have been deployed for wartime services,” she said.

“Those experiences inform he type of conditions they experience as they age, and they also inform the type of care they need, particularly veterans who have experienced trauma or PTSD.”

People with a history of PTSD are at double the risk of developing dementia, and losing capacity and becoming dependent on others can re-enact episodes of trauma, she says.

“We do know that dementia is also associated with PTSD so there is a higher level of dementia in idividuals who have experienced PTSD in the past,” she says.

“Veterans with dementia may have particularly complex needs, with symptoms such as flashbacks, hypervigilance and hyper-reactivity potentially misdiagnosed as behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.”

Veterans also face increased risk of some cancers, musco-skeletal injuries and gastro-intestinal complaints.

Other research-based interventions being used by Bolton Clarke to reduce challenging behaviours and improve function and emotional state in veterans with dementia include exercise therapy, telephone peer support, sensory modulation, music therapy and exercise therapy.

Project expanding

Dr Dickens says the e-book project started late last year in residential settings, and Bolton Clarke is now looking at expanding the initiative to home care.

She says research by BCRI shows veterans who are getting home care have greater service needs and require more support than non-veterans.

An analysis of 11,817 episodes of home nursing care for 5,795 veterans showed they had longer episode length, greater hours of care and more home visits per episode of care.

About 264,000 Department of Veterans Affairs clients receive home care support.

Informal caregivers and spouses of veterans are also at higher risk of poor physical and mental health, institutionalisation and early death.

Dr Dickens welcomed Prime Minister’s announcement last week of a royal commission into defence and veteran suicide.

The Research Institute has  worked with the Australian Services Care Network to produce the Veteran Family Mental Wellbeing Series, an online resource for former ADF members and their families and friends.

The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036.

Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046, or through SafeZone on 1800 142 072.

This story first ran in Community Care Review.

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