Senior Forums on Aged Care in Melbourne

Reporting on an aged care forum held recently with seniors in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne facilitated by Aged Care Minister, Ken Wyatt AM, and Member for Chisholm, Julia Banks MP, Ms Banks said “In the electorate of Chisholm, residents aged 65 and over make up 16 per cent of the population and this is set to grow to more than 25 per cent by 2050.”

She made reference to the Aged Care Diversity Framework that was released by the federal government in December as a perfect example how barriers that may exist to accessing appropriate aged care can be eliminated. She spoke of the diverse backgrounds of her electorate saying
“We have welcomed a large number of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who contribute so much to the fabric of our local community. We are committed to ensuring that all Australians have access to safe, quality and respectful care and that the diversity of race, religion, language, sexuality and gender is reflected in the care options available.”

With three aged care action plans being drafted under the Diversity Framework, designed to help guarantee equity of access to care, Mr. Wyatt once again stated that people are living longer than ever before and his vision for ageing and aged care was unwavering.  He further stated the government’s aim is to consistently deliver quality aged care that is accessible, affordable and sustainable and that forums like this helps the government understand what is working and what needs to be improved.

Aged care is currently somewhat of a mixed bag and, as an Aged Care Consultant,  I constantly seek the best options for my clients moving into aged care facilities.  Thankfully the standards are lifting across the board and the government’s reforms will hopefully enshrine the best possible standards of care for our elderly Australians.

Reference: Department of Health Media Hub

Meeting Residents’ Expectations in Aged Care Homes

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One of the biggest challenges for providers of Aged Care Facilities is meeting the expectations of residents and their families. From my perspective, as an Aged Care Placement Consultant, I perceive that many families expect their loved ones to receive one on one attention 24/7.  Of course, this is unrealistic as sometimes the other residents will need the attention of the staff. This can’t be helped in accommodation where there are a number of residents with varying levels of care needs to be met.

Clients always ask me about staff ratios, which has become a hot topic in aged care. This is a difficult question to answer since the introduction of Ageing In Place, because most Aged Care Homes now have a mixture of high and low needs and staff numbers are rostered according to care needs and work load at any given time. The most helpful question to ask of an Aged Care Facility is the availability of Registered Nurses on each shift, including overnight, as well as the availability of Doctors on weekends and overnight.
The quality of food is the other big issue in Aged Care Homes and I understand why it’s so important. Apart from the nutritional value, food plays a major role in the daily life of a resident. The anticipation of meals is an important focus and having a good feed leaves them satisfied. Everyone enters a home anticipating the food will be up to standard and palatable; some are disappointed at the quality, while others find the meals delicious.

Earlier in my career when I worked in Aged Care Facilities I was amused that it was often the people who had lived alone surviving on toast or crumpets who complained the most about the food. I would hear the complaints the Chef received and they were often contradictory, some thought the soup too hot, some too cold, some found the gravy too thick, some too thin. I realised how difficult it was to deliver meals for such a large and diverse population, also taking into account medical conditions, and still please everyone. I can assure you there are many residents who do enjoy their food.

In my experience, the people who choose to enter Residential Aged Care and embrace their new lifestyle thrive and are mostly content. And, like anything else, those who look for the bad will always find it and will probably never be happy.

Aged Care Future Planning Paid Off

Caroline and Billy

Last week I wrote a blog about future planning for aged care. For Billy and Caroline it paid off. With my help they planned for the day they would move to an aged care facility. Caroline and Billy received an offer from their chosen facility last week, and have gladly accepted it.

Initially they were hesitant to consider moving from their home, despite encouragement to plan for this from both their family and doctor. When I was referred to them in April/May last year they decided to explore the possibilities with my help. Caroline had concerns for the short term that she may need to go to hospital and her husband Billy cannot be left on his own. In the long term they wanted to be together and share a suite. I recommended they get their financials in order so they would be prepared, and referred them to a Financial Planner.  We decided to begin searching in their local area for suitable accommodation.

They continued to manage reasonably well at home with services and assistance from their family until late last year when Caroline needed hospitalisation for a few days. Interim care was arranged for Billy at home but when Caroline had complications and had to stay in hospital longer, I found emergency respite for Billy in one of the homes we had initially visited.  The family were very pleased with the care Billy received but for Caroline it was not the facility where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

Once Caroline and Billy returned home, she called a family meeting, which I attended, and informed her family that she had decided that it was time for her and Billy to make the transition to permanent residential care. She felt that, should there be another crisis, she did not want this undue pressure put on her family again. They had decided on Kew Gardens Aged Care, so I contacted the facility and asked for their application to be moved from waiting to urgent. Within two months a suite became available. They chose the Kew Gardens aged care facility because it is right across the road from their present home and they already have friends residing there.  Set on the edge of beautiful Kew Gardens, it is aptly named and has a pleasing outlook. They will move shortly. I am so pleased that this transition will be far less stressful for them ,due to their taking action and forward planning. I was happy to assist them in their planning and take pride in doing the best for my clients.

Future Plan Is The Best Way To Care For Parents on The “Tightrope of Aging”

Modern facility lounge

Making the decision to move from the home that you know and in which you have invested so much of yourself is always difficult, no matter at what stage of life you make it.  When you are elderly and no longer capable of caring for yourself it is even more so. There are so many emotional reactions to the idea – reluctance to leave the comfort of your own home, sadness at leaving behind friends or family, fear of an unknown environment, not wanting to be a burden and shame at no longer being able to care for yourself. A book called “Holding the Net: Caring for My Mother on the Tightrope of Aging” by Melanie P Merriman published late last year explores the difficulties faced by two daughters whose ageing mother is fiercely independent and does not want “to be a burden” to her children. They enter a tug of war where their mother fights for her independence whilst they fight for her safety.

The ultimate conclusion Melanie draws is that the discussion about her mother’s future needs and the best way to meet them should have been held early on and a future plan decided upon with all parties in agreement. She realised too late that trying to adhere to her mother’s desire “not to be a burden” actually caused the problems that did become burdensome to Melanie and her sister.

Being at the coalface of this type of situation myself, as an Aged Care Placement Specialist, I often see how difficult the decision to move a parent to an aged care facility can be. Trying to find a suitable place at short notice when a parent has a serious fall or their health seriously deteriorates is very stressful. I strongly advocate that families discuss their elderly parent’s future needs with them in an honest and open way before a crisis occurs. Setting up a future plan for elderly parents in which they feel empowered and involved in the decision making will reduce a great deal of stress if the time comes when they need the added level of care that an aged care facility can provide.

With the depth of knowledge I have of the different aged care facilities, current legislation and the processes involved, I have been able to assist people to set up their future plans. It is always my pleasure to help people find the best option for their later years, where they will feel at home and enjoy their lifestyle.

Improving the Experience of LGBTI People in Aged Care

It is encouraging to see the government moving toward improved aged care services for Australian Seniors. As the government engages with the aged care sector on the development of longer-term reform, they are already taking steps to help improve the experience of elderly LGBTI people entering aged care facilities.

The department’s website MyAgedCare now has a range of resources for providers to help them better accommodate the needs of LGBTI people.  They incude:

  • A 24 minute educational video on LGBTI inclusiveness in aged care
  • A consumer factsheet providing an overview of aged care services available and how to access them, specifically for the LGBTI community
  • A brochure with ‘10 questions to ask about LGBTI needs in residential aged care’.

These resources can be downloaded from the department’s website.

I have written in previous blogs about the difficulties faced by LGBTI people entering aged care facilities. Some sad stories reflect on the lack of understanding of their needs, such as facilities that would not recognize a person’s chosen gender rather than that shown on their birth certificate. Imagine being born male, then bravely living your life as a woman only to be made to live as a man and use male facilities in your old age upon entering aged care accommodation. As an advocate for the elderly, in my role as an Aged Care Placement Consultant, I have met people who have had to face these difficulties.

I therefore embrace the stance taken by the government to improve the experience of LGBTI people entering an aged care facility.  I sincerely hope that Australian aged care facilities will continue to improve their understanding and so provide the right support and appropriate accommodation to elderly residents within this group.

Exploring The Effect Of Music on Creative Ageing

 

Music as therapy in aged care will be examined for the effect it has on creativity and resilience in ageing by Professor Andrea Creech, a professor in music education at the Université Laval in Canada, at the International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney from 30 October to 1st November. Held at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, the overarching theme of the conference is “Mental Health and Resilience through the Arts”.

Andrea makes the point that society recognises the human need to be cared for and to belong, but often forgets how important it is for people to make a contribution, to feel valued and to be creative. “Music builds resilience, is cognitively engaging and is associated with lasting effects on brain plasticity, as well as with non-musical brain functions, such as language and attention.” she said “but perhaps the most important point is that making music is both social and communicative and is strongly related to sustaining a sense of who we are.”

Music has been used for people with dementia to great effect, as it has been found that music triggers an emotional response, tied to a memory.  Emotions and memory work side by side, so when music from a particular era is played it will often trigger memories of the person’s past that they have long forgotten.

Pete McDonald, who works full-time as a registered music therapist at Hammond Care and other aged care services in NSW, always finishes his workshop series with a public concert to which the family and friends of the participants are invited. He ensures participants are involved physically in music making, playing instruments and singing. He told Australian Ageing Agenda “Not only do we see the benefits in the social and cognitive realms, but also physical health benefits such as improved lung capacity.”

I find it heartening to hear that Professor Creech believes “It is entirely possible, given the opportunity and support, to be creative at any age”, but she then questions whether enough opportunities are provided for this. As an Aged Care Placement Consultant I regularly inspect aged care facilities and I always look for positive activities such as music workshops for my clients. It is clear that creative therapies, such as music, are positive on many levels and society’s attitude to older people need to change to allow this expression. One way is through intergenerational activity, and music is a great vehicle.

 

Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Conference in Melbourne

The 17th Alzheimer’s Australia Biennial National Dementia Conference is being held in Melbourne right now from 17th to 20th October. The title of the Conference is “ Be The Change” – the conference aims to inspire delegates to explore more innovative and creative ways to improve the quality of life and support of people, of all ages, living with all forms of dementia. Being very involved in the aged care sector, as an Aged Care Placement Consultant, I look forward to the ongoing changes and improvements as a result of this conference.

I was very impressed by the great line up of Keynote Speakers that include:

 Dr. Susan Koch, who is currently involved in a project to develop an Australian Community of Practice in Research in Dementia (ACcORD) to improve health outcomes for people with dementia and their carers; Professor Sam Gandy, an international expert in the metabolism of the sticky substance called amyloid that clogs the brain in people living with Alzheimer’s disease; Naomi Feil, developed the now world renowned Validation method and has written two books and numerous articles on the method; Scientia Prof Henry Brodaty AO, one of the world’s leading researchers in dementia, a clinician, policy advisor and a strong advocate for people living with dementia and their carers and Ita Buttrose, National Ambassador of Alzheimer’s Australia, having served as National President from 2011-14, and a former Australian of the Year (2013), she has had a long interest in health and ageing.

 

Dr. Piers Dawes from the University of Manchester is giving the Libby Harrick’s Memorial Oration. Dr. Dawes oration explores the relationship between hearing impairment and cognition, looking at the implications for hearing loss as a biomarker for cognitive well-being and also as a causal contributor to cognitive decline and poor quality of life in older age.

At the Conference research, being jointly undertaken by the University of Melbourne, Dementia Australia and Assistance Dogs Australia, on the affect of assistance dogs on people with early onset dementia was discussed. The research so far has shown that assistance dogs help to relieve loneliness, anxiety and depression for their owners with early onset dementia and gives them the experience of responsible dog ownership. Another bonus is the help they give to carers and family by providing the extra support. This research continues until next year.  I look forward to seeing the final research findings which may be of help to some of my clients who are seeking suitable aged care accommodation.