Covid-19 can be a source of trauma for older people, who may demonstrate physical, emotional, behavioural and cognitive responses.

It can also impact aged care workers involved in their care, according to experts involved in delivering the federal government’s covid-19 grief and trauma response package.

The health department-funded initiative includes a package aimed at supporting and up-skilling the aged care sector in trauma-informed care and self-care via a series of webinars, workbooks, fact sheets and self-assessment tools.

Behavioural changes

Jane Nursey is director of clinical services at post-traumatic mental health specialists Phoenix Australia, which provides a trauma-informed policy framework for aged care organisations and trauma-informed practice resources for staff as part of the package.

Jane Nursey

“Trauma informed care is a systems-based approach that can be applied at an organisational level and a sector level and at a community level,” she said in a recent webinar.

“At its basis is the idea that if everyone is informed about trauma and understands its impacts then it provides you with opportunities to put in preventative measures and also manage risk and incidents in a way that promotes health and wellbeing.”

Ms Nursey says trauma can result from a sudden or unexpected event that causes a sense of helplessness, powerlessness and being overwhelmed.

When experienced by older people, trauma can result in behaviour like social withdrawal, non-compliance with things like medication, rudeness and angry outburst, and loss of interest in food.

Older Australians accessing aged care are also likely to have experienced some previous trauma in their lifestyle.

This may make them more vulnerable to the impact of covid, which can involve isolation from friends and family, and fear of contracting the disease or losing a loved one to it.

However offering a client choice and control, identifying personal strengths and skills , being empathetic and understanding the causes of challenging behaviour can help them manage and recover from trauma.

Encouraging social engagement with friends and family via the use of technology like Skype or Facetime can also build resilience and help recovery.

Applying a trauma-informed lense

Phoenix director of policy and practice Anne-Laure Couineau says trauma informed care isn’t about becoming a trauma counsellor, but about learning how to apply a trauma-informed lense to every day practices and processes.

“It’s about thinking, within my role, how do I think about that person’s behaviours, their moods, their needs, and how to I think about my role,” Ms Couineau says.

Anne-Laure Couineau

“It’s really important to have from an organisational point of view and an individual porint of view a way of working with older Australians that is responsive to their needs when they’ve been affected by trauma.

“We also need to understand the behaviour of people in light of their experience with trauma so we understand that trauma has physical, psychological and emotional impacts that will impact how they behave.

“Then when we see someone being agitated or refusing care, it may be because of the impacts of trauma.”

The suite of resources included in the response package also includes material aimed at  residents, home care recipients and families provided by the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, OPAN and Dementia Support Australia.

There are also specific resources to help aged care workers manage the impact of lockdown on older people living with dementia.

The resources are available here.

This story first ran on Community Care Review.

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