Opposition Leader’s Vision for Aged Care

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Pictured Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese

The release in recent weeks of the interim report on the Royal Commission into Aged Care has raised responses from both the Federal government and the opposition. Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese spoke this week about Labor’s response. Firstly, he reaffirmed Labor’s pledge from their last election campaign to enact a dental plan for pensioners and also spoke of funding better pay for the aged care workforce. He also said that the ACAT (aged care assessment system)won’t be privatised under his leadership.

COTA chief executive Ian Yates agreed with the Opposition Leader’s assessment that older Australians are a diverse group of people who cannot be treated all the same.

“They require a diverse policy response that addresses issues across employment, health, finance, care, welfare and industrial relations, which I expect Labor’s proposed Positive Ageing Strategy would address” said Mr Yates. He did disagree with Mr. Albanese on one point, however, the characterisation of the Federal Government’s response to the interim report with a planned single aged care assessment system as ‘privatisation’. “A single consumer-focused professional national assessment service with many local access points has been recommended for years by successive reviews and by COTA and the National Aged Care Alliance. This is an essential front door for a reformed aged care system” he said.

Mr. Albanese also spoke highly of the experiment on intergenerational aged care, as documented on the ABC program “ Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds”. It has given him a vision for the future of elderly people who live at home with their families going to daycare with kindergarten children on a regular basis, brightening their days and, with the proven physical and mental health improvements shown in the experiment, keeping them healthier.

After all my years working in the aged care sectorI am thrilled to atlast see some positive responses coming out of this long, drawn out Royal Commission. We have heard so many sad stories so it gives me a sense of hope that governments will take a strong lead in ensuring aged care is of the highest quality, providing a positive and enjoyable lifestyle for older Australians whether living at home or in an aged care facility.

This Year in The Aged Care Sector

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The year 2019 has been a very important one for the aged care sector. I am an Aged Care Placement Consultant and have shared many of the issues, developments and opinions that are helping to shape the future of aged care in Australia.

Developments in the treatment of dementia have featured quite prominently. In January the Specialist Dementia Care Program (SDCP) was beginning to roll out. Offering specialised, transitional residential support for people exhibiting very severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), which focuses on reducing or stabilising symptoms over time, the program will provide care for those who are unable to be appropriately cared for by mainstream aged care services. The first specialist units are scheduled to be operational in 2020, with a further roll out in 2021-23.

Assistive technologieswere being developed through the year. One example is a prototype called DRESS to help people with dementia dress themselves. The carer initiates the dress sequence via a mobile device and the recorded voice prompts the person to dress themselves, correcting mistakes. Japan is heading to a workforce crisis in numbers with a rapidly aging population, so the government is encouraging the use of technology in aged care. An example is a robotic device that helps frail residents get out of bed and into a wheelchair or ease them into bathtubs.

And talking robots, I met my first robot in May this year, Lamson, when visiting a newly built aged care facility, Trinity Manor in Greensborough. It delivers medicine and meals, takes laundry and can even use lifts. Also, Griffith University has been using social robots to interact with people with dementia.

Ikkiworks has developed a robot called Ikki, who is a companion and a clinician and will eventually be used in aged care. Ikki can take a patient’s temperature and identify medication and alert the patient if the medication is incorrect.

Another approach to dementia care is the Montessori Inspired Lifestyle ® (MIL) developed by Dr. Cameron Camp. “Within this new paradigm, abilities, interests, and preferences will be respected, encouraged and maximized. Providing choice throughout the day is central to all interactions. Central to MIL is the creation of meaningful activities and social roles within the context of a community.” said Dr. Camp.

The aged care workforce was a subject that kept coming up, particularly the need for more nurses to be on call within facilities. I reported on an interesting study by Adelaide University published in April 2018 into the attraction and retention of staff to aged care. There were many reasons why working in the sector was attractive but the perception of this work as low level and underpaid was a negative.

In defence of the work Melanie Mazzarolli, Regional Business Manager, Residential Services at Benetas wrote in an article about the privilege of supporting someone on their journey to death, similar to supporting birth, and that relationships can be formed over long periods, rarely matched in other nursing roles. She also mentioned the passion of those employed in this sector. With the increase in the aging population more workers will be needed in the sector but finding and retaining them will be an ongoing challenge.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care was prevalent on the news for much of the year and painted a very negative picture of the sector. Clearly improvements across the sector are needed and a statement by the AMA this month spoke of using technologiesto assist meet the demands for care for the elderly. These technologies are already being developed and support for more development is needed.

Ending on a bright note the touching and beautifully produced documentary series The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds aired on ABC in August and September took a look at an experiment in an intergenerational program. This experiment is the first of its kind conducted in Australia with structured activities used to encourage interactions between the children and adults as they worked together to achieve particular goals. Health measurements were taken before and after the program and showed positive outcomes. Professor Susan Kurrle, who oversaw the program, believes the implications of this successful trial could be huge.

I look forward to a more positive focus on aged care in 2020, with improvements and developments that will assist the sector to deliver a high level of quality care to all our older residents.

Behind The Scenes of The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds

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A recent interview by Aged Care Insite with Professor Susan Kurrle, director of the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre at the University of Sydney, who worked on the recent ABC documentary The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, provides some interesting insights to the program. (Photo from Aged Care Insite)

This experiment is the first of its kind conducted in Australia and Professor Kurrle believes the implications of this successful trial could be huge. The ABC show follows the progress of a group of aged care residents taking part in structured activities with a group of pre-schoolers who visit their aged care home on a regular basis.

The resident-to-resident relationship building that has arisen as a result of the experiment has obvious benefits to health, Professor Kurrle said. It was a surprise side effect of the experiment and those relationships have continued in a healthy way. Some residents felt quite lonely and isolated prior to the trial.

Allowing young children day-to-day contact with their elders can also combat ageism she said. The children who took part also benefited growing in their confidence and interactions and developing of empathy. One particularly touching moment was when one young child, whose parents described him as a “soft soul”, showed empathy for a depressed resident who was not participating or speaking and had his eyes closed, by going up to him and being with him, drawing the resident out until he broke into a beaming smile.

This experiment was the first time that structured activities were used to encourage interactions between the children and adults as they worked together to achieve particular goals. Other intergenerational programs with pre schoolers have not been structured in this way, with the children simply playing side by side with the residents. Professor Kurrle pointed out that humans are pack animals and crave the companionship of family. For residents whose families are far away or unable to visit life can become lonely. This program allowed them the opportunity to interact with young children, as they would with their grand children. The health benefits were proven by standardised health tests before and after the program.

Professor Kurrle assured the interviewer that the children weren’t encouraged by producers on the show to behave in certain ways to develop the story. All behaviour on the show was spontaneous. The only people in the room were the participants, the instructor and some of her assistants to help with the children. The cameras and microphones were hidden.

Suggestions coming out of the success of the program about how to do more intergenerational programs in aged care facilities include encouraging playgroups to set up their activities within aged care facilities. Another was for aged care providers to consider building childcare facilities within their buildings when building a new facility or upgrading an existing one.

Trailer for the ABC program

 

The Value of Intergenerational Activity in Aged Care Facilities

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St Kevin’s have been running programs with their students visiting aged care facilities for some years and recently I received these heart-warming photos of secondary students visiting with the residents of the Royal Freemasons Coppin Suites in Moubray, Melbourne. The residents enjoy the interaction with the students, as they often miss their own grandchildren whom they sometimes don’t see much for various reasons,such as they are living interstate or overseas. The students also gain a lot from these visits, as is illustrated by one student in particular who wrote back to the Lifestyle person at the facility, thanking her for allowing him to spend time with the residents. He particularly singled Donald Ross out in his letter, saying that Don had made the greatest impression on him. You may remember that I wrote about Don in another blog; he has limited hearing and speaking and was unfortunately the victim of financial elder abuse. As a result of a court case against the abuser he was able to sell his asset and received sufficient finances to move to this lovely facility, which I was able to assist him to find.

The student expressed that he now has a whole different perspective of living life to the fullest with a disability through Don sharing his story with him, something he said he could never have imagined before. For the students it’s not just about being helpful, it can be a powerful experience as it’s often the only interaction they might have had with an older person.

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The students gain a valuable insight into how people lived in another generation through the stories the residents share with them. It helps to break down barriers and gives these young adults an understanding of the challenges faced in earlier times, and the challenges elderly people face now.

The social benefits of mixing elderly aged care residents with the youngest generation was the focus of an experiment funded under an initiative of the Victorian Government Department of Health Aged Care Department. An intergenerational playgroup was conducted in a residential aged care facility at Percy Baxter Lodges, North Geelong in 2009. The benefits accruing to the elderly residents, parents and children attending was evaluated as positive for all three groups. The residents became more actively involved and confident in interacting with the children over time and the children came to see walking frames, walking sticks and wheelchairs as quite normal and enjoyed being doted upon by the residents. One of the parents noted that her daughter was happy to just have someone sit quietly with her as she played, listening and talking with her patiently; the mother had not realised the value of this herself, filling her child’s day with frantic activity.  So, a great learning experience all round. Playgroups Victoria provides information on running intergenerational playgroups.