Residential aged care isn’t as bad as most people think but residents do need more emotional and social support to address wellbeing and loneliness, a peak body CEO tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

As AAA reported, large research conducted for the royal commission released research this week found the Australian community has a very negative view of aged care residents’ welfare.

While frequent visitors to residential aged care are more positive than non-visitors, almost nine in 10 Australians agree that residents are often lonely.

And converse to other measures, this perception of loneliness is heightened among those who regularly attend facilities (96 per cent), the research found (read more here).

The CEO of the national peak body for spiritual care and ageing Meaningful Ageing Australia, Ilsa Hampton said the split between perceptions of regularly visitors and other was interesting.

Isla Hampton

“It’s not as bad as what people think is something that we can probably take from that,” Ms Hampton told AAA.

“But even so we do know that residential aged care has a lot of challenges around meeting people’s social, emotional and spiritual support needs and we continue to hear examples that people aren’t given the depth of support that people are craving,” she said.

On the stronger perception of resident loneliness among regular visitors to aged care, Ms Hampton said an explanation could be that people tend to tune into more details the more often they visit.

Residents wellbeing takes time, skills

Providing the additional emotional and social support needed, which has been highlighted by the royal commisison, requires people to have time and staff with a range of expertise and abilities, she said.

“It’s about what people are able to do within the context of their day-to-day work, like a personal carer, and having a real relationship with someone.

“But then it’s also having those activities, occupational therapy and spiritual care team members that are able to get around to the person and plan support for them that is meaningful to them and help them to feel connected to life for themselves and to those around them,” Ms Hampton said.

It will be interesting to see how the positive work residential aged care has been doing around visitor access during COVID-19 impacts perceptions, she said.

“You would’ve noticed the explosion of creative and innovative ways that services have been establishing that connection and I feel in new ways. I’d be interested to see if these surveys were done in six months time what the results would be and if we would see any change.

“Because it looks to me that we’re seeing way more use of technology than we’ve ever seen before, and families and friends of older people … are being propelled into taking action to connect,” Ms Hampton said.

Resources available

Ms Hampton encouraged providers to make use of the National Guidelines for Spiritual Care in Aged Care, which provide a blueprint on how to get the system working holistically.

Spiritual care is emotional and social support in action, that is holistic and person centred, and not limited to religious expression.

“It doesn’t mean you have to be experts in world religion. But it does mean that the leadership is aligned and that the board is behind you, your models are correct, your training is in place and there are lots of things that are happening everyday to support people’s holistic wellbeing.”

Access the guidelines here.

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