Nursing homes win $10K mental health prizes

NSW aged care providers shared $35,000 in prize money for the best strategies to prevent and manage mental health issues in aged care, without using drugs.

Above: Representatives of nursing homes that won PLAC Awards for mental health projects pose with officials from NSW Health, which funds the awards.

By Stephen Easton

Mosaic-making and a men’s shed won the top honours at the fourth annual Positive Living in Aged Care (PLAC) Awards, which formed the centrepiece of the Positive Mental Health for Older People Seminar, held at Sydney’s Luna Park yesterday.

Peninsula Village on the Central Coast took out the $10,000 prize for the best preventive strategy, “to promote the mental health and wellbeing of residents by increasing protective factors to reduce the risk of the development of symptoms of a mental health condition”, for its mosaic art project.

Artist Suzie O’Donnell explained how, with the help of mosaic expert Miriam Ross, she guided five groups, each of five residents, through conceptualising, designing and producing large images from pieces of coloured tiles. The works were then hung up around the village, their creators ensuring they enjoyed pride of place.

Above: Suzie O’Donnell presents Peninsula Village’s prize-winning Mosaic Project.

Ms O’Donnell explained that art therapy was increasingly being used in aged care as a non-pharmacological intervention for various mental health issues like depression and neurological diseases like dementia, and that a number of studies had shown many benefits of its use.

“Expressing thoughts and feelings is crucial to enjoyment of life,” she said, adding that the structured process of mosaic art led the residents to “uncover skills and abilities they never knew they had”.

The participants were asked about their overall satisfaction with life before and after the project, with the initial average score of 45 per cent increasing to 85 per cent after the mosaics were completed, according to Ms O’Donnell. Peninsula Village’s CEO, Shane Neaves, also relayed more feedback.

“We did do a post-participation survey, and we’re happy to report 100 per cent satisfaction,” Mr Neaves said.

A second $10,000 award went to Mater Christi Aged Care Facility, whose ‘Men’s Shed with a Difference’ was judged the best strategy “to improve outcomes for residents with a mental health diagnosis”.

The shed is stocked with tools, equipment and ‘blokey’ paraphernalia from a bygone era, much of which was donated, and is always open during in the daytime so the men can retreat there whenever they choose.

According to Peter Baldwin, a carer from the facility who believed strongly in the men’s shed, the project targets men coping with mental illness by giving them a place to go and interact socially, away from “the predominantly female nursing home environment” in which he is one of a minority of male care staff.

“Where diversional therapy seeks to divert the person’s attention from their situation, the men’s shed has the ability to [physically] take them away from their situation,” he said. “There are just not enough fellas in aged care.”

Above: Peter Baldwin explains the Men’s Shed with a Difference Project undertaken by Mater Christi Aged Care Facility.

Supported by hotel services manager and “driving force” of the project, Jill Davis, Mr Baldwin gave a thought-provoking presentation which summed up much of what the PLAC Awards aimed to encourage.

“The non-pharmacological management of BPSD [behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia] must always be a more attractive option,” he said, echoing advice given earlier by renowned dementia expert Dr Henry Brodaty, in his keynote presentation on managing BPSD.

“… We should be looking at more psychosocial treatments,” Dr Brodaty said. “If you are going to use anti-psychotics, start low and go slow.”

Above: Professor Henry Brodaty.

Three $5,000 ‘Highly Commended’ prizes were also awarded to NSW aged care facilities for their innovative mental health strategies: Lark Ellen Nursing Home for their small-scale therapeutic garden; CA Brown Nursing Home and Hostel for implementing Memory Magic, a memory training activity purchased from the United States; and St Agnes Hospital for getting residents involved in a hilarious home video version of The Wizard of Oz. 

Audience members shared in the fun of costumes, bloopers and staff members-turned-stunt doubles skipping down the yellow brick road, as well as the memorable line, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Port Macquarie any more.” 

Yesterday’s awards recognised strategies to improve the mental health and wellbeing of aged care residents in only two of three categories. Awards for preventive mental health strategies aimed at special needs groups were not awarded as no entries were received for 2011.

PLAC Project Officer Mary Pillars also announced that she would not be organising next year’s awards and will hand the reins over to Diane Herr, an aged care consultant with the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW & ACT (ACS NSW & ACT).

While recognising the hard work that goes into applying, Ms Herr said she hoped next year would attract more entries, especially from aged care providers who work with special needs groups.

Organisers said they believed the awards, which are funded by NSW Health and the only aged care awards that specifically recognise achievement in the area of mental health, would work well nationally. Jill Pretty, chief executive of ACS NSW & ACT, confirmed that a submission in this regard would be made to the Department of Health and Ageing later in the year.

Tags: acs-nsw-act, art, award, mens-shed, mental-health, non-pharmaceutical-interventions, nsw-health, plac,

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