One of the most important issues that aged care providers face is allowing residents to feel like individuals while caring for them in a group setting.

People are different, and so are their needs and preferences, and living a life that is geared towards what you feel like doing, as opposed to what you are being told to do, can mean all the difference to the wellbeing of an aged care resident.

Leisure and lifestyle activities are very important to Australians, and weekends provide many of us with the time and freedom to escape the rigours of the working world and do the things that we feel like doing for the sole purpose of personal happiness.

Elderly Australians who reside in aged care settings have already spent a lifetime worrying and tending to the needs of the working world, and old-age is supposed to be the time where they get a chance to slow down and finally concentrate on what matters to them.

But unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The majority of aged care facilities provide residents with some form of entertainment or activity, but these activities are almost always focused on people’s ability to participate rather than the individual’s enjoyment.

Founder and CEO of Group Homes Australia, Tamar Krebs, has spent the best part of two decades working in important roles throughout the aged care industry and is recognised as a specialist in Behaviour Management.

Tamar sat down with HelloCare and shared her thoughts on the problem with the current approach to aged care lifestyle engagement, and why she believes providers need to rethink their approach and start asking more questions before they can begin to look at more solutions.

“I don’t believe in activities, I believe in engagement. Purposeful and meaningful engagement,” said Tamar.

“I’m all for keeping people stimulated and engaged in everyday life and keeping them busy, but I do believe that there needs to be a better approach in how we engage residents – playing bingo and having singalongs might be good for some residents, but it might not be for others.”

While the group approach to providing activities is understandable, especially when you factor in increased workloads and a lack of staff, there is no doubt that the activities on offer by facilities may not appeal to a number of residents, and therefore, fail to engage and fulfill that aspect of a residents overall experience.

Attendees at this years Aging 2.0 Conference in Melbourne were asked to rate the importance of a number of issues and factors from within the aged care industry, and the vast majority voted that Lifestyle and Leisure activities were the most vital aspect of care, ahead of other important issues like dementia training and brain health.

In her conversation with HelloCare, Tamar highlighted a shift in thinking that she believes could make all the difference to the happiness and wellbeing of a number of elderly aged care residents.

“If your in a system that is very much a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to care where everyone wakes up at the same time, everyone eats at one certain time; that doesn’t really cater to individuality-  It’s more about, how do we get the most residents to do an activity? rather than who would enjoy this activity? said Tamar.”

“Tapping into what’s meaningful to the person is a far more humanistic approach than just doing an entertainment schedule that may, or may not engage the individual.”

“I would encourage the industry to look at things a little differently, and to instead create opportunities for smaller groups that focus on people who share a common interest.”

“The common denominator for activities can’t be that these people are old – but that’s basically the current standard in residential aged care,”

The current lack of interest-based activity options for aged care residents is often put down to a lack of funding and lack of available staff, but Tamar believes that although more funding is definitely required, there are a number of aged care staff who could be doing more to address these types of issues.

“Diversional Therapists should be used guides and navigators as opposed to the only ones delivering on activities. The AIN’s (Assistant In Nursing) have as much information about who a resident is, and they could definitely be more active in finding out what is meaningful and purposeful engagement for an individual resident,” said Tamar.

“If for example, the diversional therapists are running a group, but I as the AIN know that a resident likes to go for walks, I’m going to take that opportunity to take this person for a 10-15 minute walk, but I suppose the AIN’s relinquish any level of responsibility when the residents are in activities and feel that aspect of a residents experience is not their responsibility.”

“We need all staff to be more staff to be more curious about who residents are, what they enjoy, and how they like to be engaged because that’s what sets people apart as individuals and humanizes us all.”

“Funding does give us resources but I think as people engaged in aged care we are not remaining curious and we are looking for solutions before we have even asked the right questions.”

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