Australia’s residential aged care facilities are getting bigger and less home-like

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Residential aged care facilities should be more like a home and less like a hospital.
from shutterstock.com

Ralph Hampson, University of Melbourne

Most older people want to stay at home as long as they can. When this is no longer possible, they move into residential aged care facilities, which become their home. But Australia’s care facilities for the aged are growing in size and becoming less home-like.

In 2010–11, 54% of residential aged care facilities in major Australian cities had more than 60 places, and the size of the average facility is growing.

Today, more than 200,000 Australians live or stay in residential aged care on any given day. There are around 2,672 such facilities in Australia. This equates to an average of around 75 beds per facility.

Large institutions for people with disability and mental illness, as well as orphaned children, were once commonplace. But now – influenced by the 1960s deinstitutionalisation movement – these have been closed down and replaced with smaller community-based services. In the case of aged care, Australia has gone the opposite way.




Read more:
How our residential aged-care system doesn’t care about older people’s emotional needs


Why is smaller better?

Evidence shows that aged care residents have better well-being when given opportunities for self-determination and independence. Internationally, there has been a move towards smaller living units where the design encourages this. These facilities feel more like a home than a hospital.

The World Health Organisation has indicated that such models of care, where residents are also involved in running the facility, have advantages for older people, families, volunteers and care workers, and improve the quality of care.

In the US, the Green House Project has built more than 185 homes with around 10-12 residents in each. Studies show Green House residents’ enhanced quality of life doesn’t compromise clinical care or running costs.

Older people have a better quality of life if they can be involved in outdoor activities.
from shutterstock.com

Around 50% of residents living in aged care facilities have dementia. And research has shown that a higher quality of life for those with dementia is associated with buildings that help them engage with a variety of activities both inside and outside, are familiar, provide a variety of private and community spaces and the amenities and opportunities to take part in domestic activities.

In June 2018, an Australian study found residents with dementia in aged-care facilities that provided a home-like model of care had far better quality of life and fewer hospitalisations than those in more standard facilities. The home-like facilities had up to 15 residents.

The study also found the cost of caring for older people in the smaller facilities was no higher, and in some cases lower, than in institutionalised facilities.




Read more:
Caring for elderly Australians in a home-like setting can reduce hospital visits


There are some moves in Australia towards smaller aged care services. For example, aged care provider Wintringham has developed services with smaller facilities for older people who are homeless. Wintringham received the Building and Social Housing Foundation World Habitat Award 1997 for Wintringham Port Melbourne Hostel. Its innovative design actively worked against the institutional model.

Bigger and less home-like

Historically, nursing homes in Australia were small facilities, with around 30 beds each, often run as family businesses or provided by not-for-profit organisations. Between 2002 and 2013 the proportion of facilities with more than 60 beds doubled to 48.6%. Financial viability rather than quality of care drove the increase in size.

Today, around 45% of facilities are operated by the private for-profit sector, 40% by religious and charitable organisations, 13% by community-based organisations, 3% by state and territory governments, and less than 1% by local governments.




Read more:
It’s hard to make money in aged care, and that’s part of the problem


In 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that residential care services run by government organisations were more likely to be in small facilities. One-fifth (22%) of places in these facilities are in services with 20 or fewer places. Almost half (49%) of privately-run residential places are found in services with more than 100 places.

All of this means that more older Australians are living out their last days in an institutional environment.

Once larger facilities become the norm, it will be difficult to undo. Capital infrastructure is built to have an average 40-year life, which will lock in the institutional model of aged care.

The built environment matters. The royal commission provides an opportunity to fundamentally critique the institutional model.

Ralph Hampson, Senior Lecturer, Health and Ageing, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

FACTCHECK: Does eating two teaspoons of nuts really boost your brain function by 60%?

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New Africa/Shutterstock

Sandra-Ilona Sunram-Lea, Lancaster University

Dementia is a cruel disease that robs people of their memory, their judgement and their identity. Unfortunately, there is no cure, and in the past few years a number of clinical trials for new dementia drugs have failed – the latest being Biogen’s drug aducanumab. Without any effective treatments on the horizon, most people’s best hope is to avoid getting dementia in the first place.

One of the hallmarks of dementia is cognitive decline. There are several lifestyle changes that may slow cognitive decline, such as doing mentally stimulating activities (crossword puzzles, learning a new language), getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy diet – especially one low in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar.

Of these, diet is a favourite among health reporters, perhaps because the message can be delivered clearly and succinctly. The latest such story comes from the Daily Mirror which claims that eating just two teaspoons of nuts a day “boosts brain function by 60%”. If the claim is true, we should all be rushing out to buy a bag of nuts, but is this what the study actually says?

The article is based on an observational study published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging. After assessing the diets of nearly 5,000 adults in China (aged 55 and older) over a period of nine years, the researchers found an inverse relationship between the amount of nuts people ate and the degree of cognitive decline they experienced. Those who consumed more than 10g of nuts and seeds a day were less likely to show a fall in their cognitive function compared with those who consumed less than 10g a day.

Out of the 4,822 participants in the study, 67% had their cognitive ability tested twice (only 16% were tested more than twice over the course of the study). Where more than one cognitive measurement was made, cognitive performance decreased over time, but people who ate more than 10g of nuts per day decreased the likelihood of this decline. Consequently, the results suggest that consuming two teaspoons of nuts per day may preserve cognitive performance and may lead to better cognitive ageing over a lifetime. The results do not show that eating nuts improves cognitive function, as the Mirror headline claimed.

A certain amount of cognitive decline is inevitable with age.
Andrea Danti/Shutterstock

Limitations

Participants in the study inevitably varied on a number of factors, including education, general health, nutritional intake and lifestyle factors, such as exercise. Although the way the data was analysed took those factors into account and still found an association, cognitive decline and dementia are strongly influenced by many environmental and genetic factors, and it is unlikely that consumption of one particular food is sufficient to ward off dementia.

Another weakness of this study is the fact that participants reported their nut consumption via a questionnaire. Evidence shows that self-reported food consumption should always be interpreted with caution.

Although randomised controlled trials indicate that eating nuts has an effect on blood flow (including to the brain), there isn’t enough evidence to draw conclusions about their impact on cognitive function.

What we can say at this point is that the evidence on nuts and cognitive decline is promising, but it isn’t strong enough to make nutritional recommendations. Simply consuming two teaspoons of nuts per day is unlikely to reduce your risk of dementia.


More on evidence-based articles about diets:

Sandra-Ilona Sunram-Lea, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Empathy, a key ingredient in culture change

News Release
April 2019 | University of Pennsylvania – Empathy and cooperation go hand in hand

Taking a game theory approach to study cooperation, School of Arts and Sciences evolutionary biologists find that empathy can help cooperative behavior ‘win out’ over selfishness.

It’s a big part of what makes us human: we cooperate. But humans aren’t saints. Most of us are more likely to help someone we consider good than someone we consider a jerk.

Two figures have heated discussion as a third in the middle observes
Taking the perspective of another can help foster cooperation in a group, according to a new study by Penn evolutionary biologists.

How we form these moral assessments of others has a lot to do with cultural and social norms, as well as our capacity for empathy, the extent to which we can take on the perspective of another person.

In a new analysis, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania investigate cooperation with an evolutionary approach. Using game-theory-driven models, they show that a capacity for empathy fosters cooperation, according to senior author Joshua Plotkin, an evolutionary biologist. The models also show that the extent to which empathy promotes cooperation depends on a given society’s system for moral evaluation.

“Having not just the capacity but the willingness to take into account someone else’s perspective when forming moral judgments tends to promote cooperation,” says Plotkin.

What’s more, the group’s analysis points to a heartening conclusion. All else being equal, empathy tends to spread throughout a population under most scenarios.

“We asked, ‘can empathy evolve?’” explains Arunas Radzvilavicius, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher who works with Plotkin. “What if individuals start copying the empathetic way of observing each other’s interactions? And we saw that empathy soared through the population.”

Plotkin and Radzvilavicius coauthored the study, published today in eLife, with Alexander Stewart, an assistant professor at the University of Houston.

Plenty of scientists have probed the question of why individuals cooperate through indirect reciprocity, a scenario in which one person helps another not because of a direct quid pro quo but because they know that person to be “good.” But the Penn group gave the study a nuance that others had not explored. Whereas other studies have assumed that reputations are universally known, Plotkin, Radzvilavicius, and Stewart realized this did not realistically describe human society, where individuals may differ in their opinion of others’ reputations.

“In large, modern societies, people disagree a lot about each other’s moral reputations,” Plotkin says.

The researchers incorporated this variation in opinions into their models, which imagine someone choosing either to donate or not to donate to a second person based on that individual’s reputation. The researchers found that cooperation was less likely to be sustained when people disagree about each other’s reputations.

That’s when they decided to incorporate empathy, or theory of mind, which, in the context of the study, entails the ability to understand the perspective of another person.

Doing so allowed cooperation to win out over more selfish strategies.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Plotkin says. “If I don’t account for your point of view, there will be many occasions when I judge you harshly when I really shouldn’t because, from your perspective, you were doing the right thing.”

To further explore the impact of empathy on cooperation, the researchers looked at a variety of frameworks, or social norms, that people might use to assign a reputation to another person based on their behavior. For example, most frameworks label someone “good” if they reward a fellow “good” individual, but social norms differ in how they judge interactions with a person deemed bad. While the “stern judging” norm labels “good” anyone who punishes a bad actor, the “simple standing” norm does not require this punitive approach: A “good” person can reward a bad one.

Plotkin, Radzvilavicius, and Stewart discovered again that capacity for empathy mattered. When populations were empathetic, stern judging was the best at promoting cooperation. But when a group was less willing to take on the perspective of another, other norms maximized rates of cooperation.

This result prompted the team to ask another evolutionary question—whether empathy itself can evolve and become stable in a population. And under most scenarios, the answer was yes.

“Starting with a population where no one is empathetic, with people judging each other based on their own perspective, we saw that eventually individuals will copy the behavior of those who judge empathetically,” says Plotkin. “Empathy will spread, and cooperation can emerge.”

This was the case even when the researchers accounted for a degree of errors, noise, and misperception in their models.

The findings open up a new area of research for both evolutionary theory and empirical studies into how societies behave.

“Empathy is completely foreign to game theory,” Radzvilavicius say. “In a way this is finding a new niche for research to progress to in the future, accounting for theory of mind.”

Looking ahead, the Penn team hopes to pursue such questions, perhaps by pitting different social norms against one another and eventually by testing their ideas against observations from real people, either through experiments they design or through data collected from social media.

“It’s obvious that in social media people are acutely aware of their public persona and reputation and curate it carefully,” Plotkin says. “It would be fascinating to analyze these evolutionary dynamics as they play out in online interactions.”

The study was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundationand the U.S. Army Research Office (Grant W911NF-12-R-0012-04).

Joshua B. Plotkin is a professor in the Department of Biology in the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences. He has secondary appointments in the Department of Mathematics and the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Computer and Information Science.

Arunas L. Radzvilavicius is a postdoctoral researcher in Penn’s Department of Biology.

Alexander J. Stewart is an assistant professor at the University of Houston and a former postdoctoral researcher at Penn.

A Better Way to Predict the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

News Release
April 2019 | the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging – New PET Imaging Biomarker Could Better Predict Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

Reston, VA—Researchers have discovered a way to better predict progression of Alzheimer’s disease. By imaging microglial activation levels with positron emission tomography (PET), researchers were able to better predict progression of the disease than with beta-amyloid PET imaging, according to a study published in the April issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2025, that number is expected to increase to more than seven million. The hallmark brain changes for those with Alzheimer’s disease include the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques. When microglial cells from the central nervous system recognize the presence of beta-amyloid plaques, they produce an inflammatory reaction in the brain.

“The 18-kD translocator protein (TSPO) is highly expressed in activated microglia, which makes it a valuable biomarker to assess inflammation in the brain,” said Matthias Brendel, MD, MHBA, at Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich in Germany. “In our study, we utilized TSPO-PET imaging to determine whether microglial activation had any influence on cognitive outcomes in an amyloid mouse model.”

Figure 2Longitudinal TSPO and Aβ PET and performance in behavioral testing. (A) Cortical TSPO PET and Aβ PET signal intensities of PS2APP mice at different ages are expressed as z scores relative to findings in age-matched C57BL/6 mice. Coronal and axial slices are projected on T1-weighted MRI template. (B) Progression of individual TSPO PET z scores and Aβ PET z scores in forebrain of PS2APP mice (n = 10) with age. (C) Differences between PS2APP and C57BL/6 (WT) mice for escape latency (sec) and traveled distance in pixels (pix) as WM readouts. Error bars represent SEM. *P < 0.01. **P < 0.001.

In the study, researchers compiled a series of PET images for 10 transgenic mice with beta-amyloid proteins and seven wild-type mice. TSPO PET imaging of activated microglia was conducted at eight, 9.5, 11.5 and 13 months, and beta-amyloid PET imaging was performed at eight and 13 months. Upon completion of the imaging, researchers then subjected the mice to a water maze in which the mice were to distinguish between a floating platform that would hold their weight and one that would sink. The tasks were performed several times a day during a 1.5-week period. Memory performance in the water maze was assessed by measuring the average travel time from the start point to a platform each day of training and by calculating the traveled distance at the last day of training. After completing the water maze task, immunohistochemistry analyses were performed for microglia, amyloid and synaptic density.

Transgenic mice with the highest TSPO PET signal in the forebrain or other areas associated with spatial learning tended to have better cognitive performance in the water maze, while beta-amyloid signals in the same areas of the brain showed no correlation to cognitive outcomes in the maze. Researchers found that an earlier microglial response to amyloid pathology in transgenic mice also protected synaptic density at follow-up. Specifically, transgenic mice with higher TSPO expression at eight months had much better cognitive outcomes in the water maze and higher synaptic density as confirmed by immunochemistry analyses.

“This study provides the first evidence that the level of microglial activation could be a far better predictor of current and future cognitive performance than beta-amyloid levels,” noted Brendel. “Keeping the limitations of mouse models in mind, it could be crucial to modify an individual’s microglial activation state to ameliorate future cognitive decline. We believe that a balanced microglia activation is crucial for prevention of cognitive impairment.”

The authors of “Early and Longitudinal Microglial Activation but Not Amyloid Accumulation Predicts Cognitive Outcome in PS2APP Mice” include Carola Focke, Maximilian Deussing, Claudio Schmidt, Simon Lindner, Franz-Josef Gildehaus, Leonie Beyer and Barbara von Ungern-Sternberg, Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital of Munich, LMU Munich, Munich, Germany; Tanja Blume, Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital of Munich, LMU Munich, Munich, Germany, and Center for Neuropathology and Prion Research, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Munich, Germany; Benedikt Zott and Helmuth Adelsberger, Institute of Neuroscience, Technical  University of Munich, Munich, Germany; Yuan Shi and Mario M. Dorostkar, Center for Neuropathology and Prion Research, Ludwig-Miximilians-University of Munich, Munich, Germany, and DZNE-German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Munich, Germany; Finn Peters, DZNE-German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Munich, Germany; Gernot Kleinberger, Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany, and Biomedical Center, Biochemistry, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Munich, Germany; Peter Bartenstein and Matthias Brendel, Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital of Munich, LMU Munich, Munich, Germany, and Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany; Laurence Ozmen and Karlheinz Baumann, Roche Pharma Research and Early Development, F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd., Basel, Switzerland; Christian Haass, DZNE-German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Munich, Germany, Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany, and Biomedical Center, Biochemistry, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Munich, Germany; Jochen Herms, Center for Neuropathology and Prion Research, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, Munich, Germany, DZNE-German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Munich, Germany, and Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany; Axel Rominger, Department of Nuclear Medicine, University Hospital of Munich, LMU Munich, Munich, Germany, Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany, and Department of Nuclear Medicine, Inselspital, University Hospital Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

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For more information or to schedule an interview with the researchers, please contact Rebecca Maxey at (703) 652-6772 or 
rmaxey@snmmi.org.  Current and past issues of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine can be found online at http://jnm.snmjournals.org.

About the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) is an international scientific and medical organization dedicated to advancing nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, vital elements of precision medicine that allow diagnosis and treatment to be tailored to individual patients in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.

SNMMI’s more than 17,000 members set the standard for molecular imaging and nuclear medicine practice by creating guidelines, sharing information through journals and meetings, and leading advocacy on key issues that affect molecular imaging and therapy research and practice. For more information, visit www.snmmi.org.

Personhood

Reading up on all the news, reports and discussions on the aged care royal commission, it makes me wonder if personhood is forgotten in dementia care. Recognition, respect and trust is not rocket science and that’s just common sense. What’s happened to aged care? Why is it that people living with dementia are now being objectified, disrespected and feared in aged care. How did we go so wrong?

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As home care packages become big business, older people are not getting the personalised support they need

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Many older Australians prefer to stay at home than enter residential aged care – but the process of securing home care is riddled with complexities.
From shutterstock.com

Lyn Phillipson, University of Wollongong and Louisa Smith, University of Wollongong

The Royal Commission into Aged Care has unleashed a spate of claims of system failure within the residential aged care sector.

Now, as the commission shifts its focus to care in the community, we’re also seeing claims of failure within the home care packages program.

This scheme aims to support older people with complex support needs to stay at home. But what we’ve got is a market-based system where the processes involved in accessing support and managing services are making it difficult for vulnerable older Australians to receive the care they want.

If this system is to be workable, older people need better information and more personalised supports to enable choice and control – especially those with complex needs.




Read more:
Would you like to grow old at home? Why we’re struggling to meet demand for subsidised home care


Consumer directed care

A growing number of older Australians are receiving home care subsidised by the government. During the 2017-18 financial year, 116,843 people accessed home care packages.


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From July 1 2015, all home care packages have been delivered on what’s called a Consumer Directed Care basis.

This means that, theoretically, home care providers must work with consumers to design and deliver services that meet their goals and care needs, as determined by an Aged Care Assessment Team.

However, in reviewing the active steps outlined in the government pathway to access a package, we must consider the person who is navigating this path.

They are frail older people with complex support needs, often seeking help at times of crisis. These include the growing number of older Australians living with multiple medical conditions and complex age-related syndromes such as dementia.




Read more:
Explainer: what is a home care package and who is eligible?


After a person has been assessed, they will receive a letter informing them they are eligible. However, due to long waiting lists, this does not provide them with immediate access to care; most wait many months before they are actually assigned a package by My Aged Care.

When they eventually receive a letter confirming their package, the consumer will be approached by various service providers. They will need to sign a complex contract with their chosen provider.

If the consumer is feeling frustrated and confused during these early stages, this is only the beginning. The recent marketisation of home care means managing their own care requires going through impersonal, centralised provider systems.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

People need clear information to choose a provider

The first thing people assigned a home care package need to do is choose a care provider.

There are now close to 900 different providers offering home care packages. This includes not-for-profits, as well as a growing number of for-profit providers competing for new business.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/o1vsF/1/


In reality, however, few older people research different providers. Once they’re assigned a home care package, their name is placed on a centralised database accessible by all registered service providers.

The person then receives unsolicited phone calls from the sales teams of different providers, offering their services and trying to make appointments to come and visit. For consumers, this represents a shift from a familiar government model of care provision to a market model.

Research shows consumers often don’t understand consumer directed care, and this can leave them vulnerable to the forceful marketing tactics employed by some providers. It can also make negotiating a complex contract with legal, financial and personal implications very difficult.

Older people granted a home care package will be approached by different providers wanting their business.
From shutterstock.com

To make informed choices between providers, people need accessible information. There is currently insufficient information for older people and their families to compare services on indicators of quality (such as the number of complaints agencies receive, the training of staff, the types of specialist services they offer, and so on).

To address this gap, the government must commit to collecting and publishing data on home care quality. This would drive service improvement and increase people’s ability to make informed choices between different providers.

Service and administrative fees

To make informed choices, people also need to be able to compare services on the basis of price.

The average profit per client for home care package providers was A$2,832 in 2016-17, but there’s significant variability between providers’ fees.

For example, the use of people’s individual care budgets to cover administration or case management fees ranges between 10-45% of their total package.

High fees and administrative costs may reveal the profit-driven motives of a few unscrupulous providers.




Read more:
What is ‘quality’ in aged care? Here’s what studies (and our readers) say


Because of administrative fees, many people are spending a high portion of their individual budgets on case management to support their care.

While there’s evidence case management can provide clinical benefits for older people, in the context of the current home care funding model, it may also leave people with less money for direct care services than they need.

People need support to manage their packages

We’re currently looking at the experiences of people with dementia using home care packages. Unsurprisingly, we’re finding that while they are grateful for the services they’re receiving, they are having a difficult time managing their care. For some this may be due to their limited decision-making capacity, but for many, their choice and control is being limited as much by the service model.

For example, to enable providers to compete in the open market, many have adopted central 1800 numbers to support people to manage their services. This means if consumers want to change something, they are funnelled through this system.

Think about your own experience of service helplines, such as with telephone or energy companies. Now consider a woman with dementia who needs to call a 1800 number to change the time of her shower so she can see her doctor.

Rather than communicating with a local and known case manager, she now needs to speak to someone she doesn’t know and who is not familiar with her care needs.

Instead of facilitating choice and control, this demand on the consumer to constantly articulate their needs to unfamiliar people means many are frustrated, and some are even opting out of services.

How can we improve things?

The three words the government associates with consumer directed home care are choice, control and markets.

But the system doesn’t foster control. Although consumers technically have choices, the marketised and bureaucratic approaches of service providers make it difficult for consumers to articulate and receive support for their personal choices.

The processes, information and supports available to assist older people and their families are inadequate to facilitate the type of choices and control one might associate with “consumer directed” care.




Read more:
Seven steps to help you choose the right home care provider


There’s an urgent need to improve the processes for accessing timely home care packages, particularly for those with complex support needs. This includes the quality and accessibility of information, resources and decision-making tools.

There’s also a significant need for training, advocacy and impartial support for choice, particularly for people with limited decision-making capacity, such as those living with dementia.

Research and practice in aged care and disability in other settings provide extensive resources for person-centred planning and decision making which could be adapted for use in our home care system.The Conversation

Lyn Phillipson, NHMRC-ARC Dementia Development Fellow, University of Wollongong and Louisa Smith, Research Fellow at AHSRI, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Aged care failures show how little we value older people – and those who care for them

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Our society should ensure older people remain employed and engaged in their communities, rather than pushed to the margins.
Shutterstock
Bridget Laging, La Trobe University; Amanda Kenny, La Trobe University, and Rhonda Nay, La Trobe University

As the royal commission begins investigating the failures of the residential aged care sector, it is important such a review also considers the broader socio-political factors that have contributed to this crisis.

The commission needs to go beyond the institutional problems at individual aged care facilities, as these are a symptom of a much broader rejection of ageing in society and marginalisation of older people.

Negative stereotyping of older people is reinforced in the media, and this both informs and reflects societal attitudes. In Western society especially, we fear dependency, invisibility and dying. Aged care is a silo of these fears. And until it affects us personally, we ignore it.

How older people are marginalised in society

We have an expiry date in our society. This is not the date we die, but a time when our skills and knowledge are no longer considered to be valid or useful. Our value is largely determined by our economic contributions to society. But for many older people, this is difficult to demonstrate because they’re no longer in the workforce.

The economic impact of societal rejection of ageing is significant. Modelling by Price Waterhouse Cooper indicates that Australia’s gross domestic product would increase by almost 5% if people were supported to work longer. And data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that many Australians would like to retire later if they could.

Yet, there is evidence that older people are routinely denied work. In 2016, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said there was an urgent need to “tackle the discrimination that forces people out of work years before they want to leave”.




Read more:
We’ve had 20 aged care reviews in 20 years – will the royal commission be any different?


While older people should be supported to work longer if they wish, over half of Australians between the ages of 65 and 80 report a moderate or severe disability, resulting in greater dependency. A 2017 study of late-life dependency published in The Lancet found that, on average, older people will require 24-hour care for 1.3 to 1.9 years of their lives.

However, it is important that older people are not considered redundant in their societal role when dependency increases.

Aged care workers are also undervalued

Residential aged care facilities fulfil an essential role in our society. Yet, our recent ethnographic study in two residential aged care facilities in Victoria shows how this role has been compromised by an under-skilled, under-valued and overworked aged care workforce.

Older people were exposed to a revolving door of anonymous workers, significantly reducing opportunities for teamwork and fostering relationships between staff and residents. In one of the not-for-profit facilities, a single registered nurse was responsible for the care of 73 residents. This contributed to the delegation of an increasing range of tasks to unregistered personal care assistants with minimal training and delays in recognising signs of health deterioration among residents.




Read more:
How our residential aged-care system doesn’t care about older people’s emotional needs


A reliance on general practitioners also increased the likelihood of hospital transfer. And hospital transfers can sometimes prove harmful, with previous studies showing that the noisy, fast-paced environment, bright lights and anonymous faces can have a negative impact on residents, particularly those with dementia.

Within the healthcare sector, aged care has the lowest status of all specialty areas amongst nurses and doctors. Recruiting appropriately qualified and skilled people to work in aged care is thus a constant challenge. Australia is expected to increasingly rely on imported labour to staff its aged care sector in the near future.

Ways to fix the system

Encouraging more healthcare professionals to enter the aged care sector will require a multi-pronged approach, starting with finding ways to engender more professional respect for those working in the field.

Greater emphasis also needs to be placed on improving the gerontological expertise of aged care workers. This can be strengthened by prioritising aged care in medical school education and recognising “nursing home” care as a specialist medical area. It is also imperative that personal care assistants receive greater recognition of the roles and duties they perform.




Read more:
Australia’s residential aged care facilities are getting bigger and less home-like


Registration of personal care assistants as third-tier health care professionals is well overdue to ensure better oversight of their training and scope of their practice.

We also need to recognise the importance of human connection in residential aged care facilities. This requires strategies to build better relationships between residents and staff, and developing a formula for more accurate staffing allocations that reflect the real time commitments involved in aged care.

Who bears the ultimate responsibility?

It’s not enough to be shocked by the aged care scandals uncovered by the media and the decision to appoint a royal commission to investigate. We must also make older people, their contributions and end-of-life needs more visible. Increased funding and oversight will only come when we collectively say it’s important.

It is incumbent on us to ensure that residential aged care facilities do not operate as holding bays for the silenced, or wastelands for the discarded, where the occupants are expected to demand nothing and be as little cost to society as possible.

We have an opportunity to reconstruct the delivery of residential aged care. Let’s begin with the end in mind: a society that not only values older people, but values the resources required to provide the care they need and deserve.The Conversation

Bridget Laging, PhD Candidate, La Trobe University, La Trobe University; Amanda Kenny, Violet Marshman Professor of Rural Health, La Trobe University, and Rhonda Nay, Emeritus Professor La Trobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.