Meaningful ageing in Australia

There are many examples of fantastic care and support provided for older people in Australia

Meaningful Ageing

Image: Matthew Payne

The attendant needs to check a sore. The older person is in a large chair in an aged care facility in front of a TV that is off. The staff member walks to the chair, yanks the chair backwards to get the body of the person into the position they need, makes the check and walks off to complete her notes. The older person has recently been assessed as depressed and medication options are being considered.

There are many examples of fantastic care and support provided for older people in Australia. Unfortunately, there are also still a lot of examples of staff forgetting that they are in a relationship with other human beings. They forget this about themselves, and they forget this about those they are supporting. This detachment is made possible by systems of care that do not require any thought about meaning, purpose and connectedness for the older person or for those in caring roles.

How can we change this scene?

The attendant needs to check a person’s sore. The older person is in a large chair in an aged care facility. The attendant walks to the person. The staff member is well known to the older person because they see each other every time she is on shift. “Hi Mabel,” the staff member pauses at the side of the chair with a smile. Squeezes Mabel’s hand. Mabel looks at the staff member – she knows this a kind person, who likes her, although Mabel isn’t able to speak. The staff member explains to Mabel what she needs to do, asks for permission. Gently gets the chair into position, all the while humming the tune to ‘Amazing Grace,’ because she knows this is one of Mabel’s favourites. Mabel’s foot moves in rhythm, she starts to join in. The staff member makes the check, finishes the verse she was humming, smiling at Mabel, says a warm goodbye, then goes to complete her notes.

This is just one small example of the way we can improve on the hundreds of interactions that make up a life when aged care services are needed.  These hundreds of interactions form a vital part of quality of life for the older person. As they would for any of us.

The carer comes to visit Abdul every week to help with cleaning. They have gotten to know each other over the last few months. On this day, Abdul becomes distressed. Abdul tells the carer that he wishes he could do the Hajj but he is too frail now. The carer’s organisation has given him some extra training and information about Abdul’s possible needs through Meaningful Ageing Australia. As they do the dishes together, the carer is able to listen to Abdul’s distress and ask him about Islam’s teaching on purity of intention. The carer asks if Abdul would like a visit from the Imam. Abdul appreciates the opportunity to talk. This scene is repeated a number of times as Abdul continues to adjust to being in the last phase of his life.

Tuning in to what matters most for older people requires an engagement with their deepest hopes and fears, with their sources of meaning, and how they experience their connectedness to others, nature, creativity and ‘Something Bigger’, in whatever form this may take for them. A full life is one that includes meaning, purpose and connectedness. This is a shorthand way of describing spirituality.

Meaningful Ageing Australia is the peak body for spiritual care and ageing. In 2013, over twenty providers of aged care services across Australia joined together in a bold move to establish our not-for-profit association. We were the lead agency on the federally funded National Guidelines for Spiritual Care in Aged Care launched in Aug 2016, developed in partnership with NARI and SHV. Our main activities are products and services to enable access to high quality pastoral and spiritual care for older people; and advocacy with key agencies and government about meaning, purpose and connectedness for older people.  We have begun by focussing on community and residential aged care.

We constantly work in partnership and collaboration – we would love to hear from you if you would like to share ideas to improve on meaning, purpose and connectedness for older people.

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[Source: Ilsa Hampton, CEO, Meaningful Ageing Australia]