Rituals in Residential Aged Care

For residents, staff and families

In residential aged care facilities staff work in a social environment in which people pass away as a matter of course. In some organisations they will get the opportunity to go to the funeral. But what are other common practices at the time of residents’ deaths? How do they support resilience in staff, residents and resident families?

Research has been undertaken to scan and gain insight into rituals used in the sector, including when a resident dies. Respondents come from facilities in metropolitan Melbourne, from affordable to high end. Roles range from lifestyle coordinators and workers to clinical care coordinators and care managers. We have also talked to educators in the field.

We asked about rituals each organisation has in place, including rituals for death; policies around death and dying; roles and responsibilities; and what things the respondent values or would like to see done differently when a resident dies.

Early findings highlight that almost all facilities have similar well-defined rituals around major events such as Mothers’ Day, Anzac Day, and so on. However, those relating to death differ widely. It appears that there is welcome practice change in some organisations. But across the sector there is still a degree of what one respondent called ‘hiding and pretending’, and a culture of avoiding the subject of death, especially with residents.

The majority of respondents see an ability to be open about death as contributing to resilience for staff and residents. Leadership by executive staff is considered essential to change, with training and adequate staffing levels contributing to good practice.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and we look forward to sharing more detailed research results later this year.

Dr Annie Bolitho is the principal of Kinship Ritual, a niche end of life consultancy offering end of life planning and support, vigils, home funerals and memorials, and public and organisational workshops and training. Annie runs ‘Death Matters’ workshops with Melbourne health service CoHealth on grief and bereavement and is the convenor of Death CafĂ© Melbourne. Kinship Ritual provides research snapshots of current practice and a regular blog http://kinshipritual.com.au/kinship-ritual-blog/.

[Source: Dr Annie Bolitho, Founder, Kinship Ritual, http://kinshipritual.com.au/]