Picture this. . .

Your father, who currently resides in a aged care facility is suddenly rushed to the hospital due to a medical emergency.

As you struggle with inevitable stress of this situation, you begin to think logically about what your father may need, and head to his aged care facility to pick up some toiletries and clothes that he may need.

Upon arrival, you are greeted with a nervous care worker who tries to prevent you from entering- your supposedly vacant- fathers room.

But you persevere and push past this person, opening the door to the room that your father paid his life-time savings for.

As the door flies open, you notice a shadowy figure in the corner and hear the muffled sounds of grunting and loud breathing.

And as the light from the ceiling begins to illuminate the room, your eyes begin to focus and you realise that one of the employees being paid to care for residents, is actually asleep in your father’s bed.

Here at HelloCare, we receive a number of stories from employees, residents, and families from within the aged care sector. And the story above was actually told to us by one of our most credible sources.

Anyone who has worked in aged care will know how challenging the job can be.

People often say how rewarding it is to work in aged care, and that it’s a privilege to care for those who have done so much for society.

But understandably, there are many different challenges.

The work often requires staff to care for those who have very serious health conditions, and it can be physically demanding. And of the biggest challenges that aged care workers face is working at night.

Night-Shift workers face a higher number of risks than the average employee.

The risks involved pertain to the negative health benefits associated with working at night, and also the reduction in safety.

Health wise the effect of night shift can wreak havoc on your bodies natural cycles, leading to a number of different ailments and susceptibility to problems.

Physically, night-shift workers have an increased risk of developing obesity, decreased brain size and are even more susceptible to developing cardiovascular disease.

While mentally they can experience extreme fatigue, depression and mood changes, and have an inflated risk of divorce.

While these symptoms have no gender bias, night time work poses an even greater risk for females.

This change in timing can create changes in hormone production and the menstrual cycle, and women who work at night have been shown to have higher chances of contracting breast, skin and gastrointestinal cancer.

It’s not surprising that research has shown that nurses who struggle to stay awake while working at night have higher rates of medication errors and near-miss medication errors.

Night-shift workers also have 5.5 times the chance of having a car accident.

But of course, residents in aged care facilities require around-the-clock care, so it’s imperative that staff be there at night. What’s the best way to help aged care staff manage the effects of night shift?

Could napping be the key?

Some say that taking a 20 to 30-minute nap while at work would help shift-workers remain alert and reduce the feelings of intense tiredness that so often accompanies working at night.

A survey of the research on shift-worker napping found that despite the fact that a feeling of ‘grogginess’ can follow a nap, night-shift napping led to decreased sleepiness and improved performance.

Another study found that nurses who took a 30-minute ‘power nap’ had improved alertness. While longer naps of between 30 and 90 minutes sometimes led workers to feel ‘groggy’ afterwards.

One nursing nap study was hindered by management’s attitude towards napping while at work, and this no doubt could impact the uptake of napping as a practice in aged care too.

Some managers didn’t want to take the risk that not enough nurses would be available when they were required. Others said nurses did not take formal breaks, despite working 12-hour shifts, and others said they didn’t have a place for the nurses to rest.

But if management is able overcome these hurdles, by finding an appropriate place for short naps, and ensuring systems are in place to preserve care standards, then napping might actually improve staff morale, raise the level of care provided at night, and improve safety.

When it comes to the welfare of those entrusted to look after our loved ones at night, maybe a quick nap should be more than a dream.


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