Aug 11, 2020

Aged care communication in a multi-cultural age

Australia is an increasingly multicultural society, so it only makes sense that our aged care community is equally culturally diverse. Making sure effective communication methods are available between staff and residents, despite multicultural differences, is important in order to offer the most effective care. 

Whether it’s between coworkers, residents, or staff and residents, communicating effectively is vital in the aged care industry. Miscommunication, of even the smallest detail, could be potentially life threatening. 

With around 40% of aged care workers in Australia being born overseas, making sure information is passed clearly and concisely can sometimes be tricky. Not only in workers, but according to a 2016 survey, 37% of people aged 65 and over were born overseas, and with more people moving to Australia each year, it’s reasonable to assume that this percentage has increased. 

One particular facility, James Milson Village in North Sydney, found itself in a situation where communication between staff members had caused some issues. 

“We employ around 100 care staff in total, and 80% of our workforce are from non-English speaking backgrounds. The majority of our workforce is from Nepal, India and the Philippines, with the Nepalese constituting around 60 – 70 per cent. This diversity is fantastic, however, we noticed that it presented some challenges when it came to evidencing care,” said IT Manager Nadeem Ahmed.

“Language barriers meant that some carers would struggle to articulate clearly when entering and reading back through progress notes, which was causing confusion between staff, especially around handover.”

Communication solutions

So with high percentages of both staff and residents having English as a second language, what can we do to assist in communication within aged care? Being clear on an individual’s language skills can be a good starting point. 

Introducing standardised language assessments for both residents and staff means that an awareness of the different levels of English language comprehension can create a better informed and more cohesive environment. This also means that any staff who are bilingual can be made aware of residents who speak the same language, allowing them to offer a level of care and understanding that the resident was perhaps lacking previously. 

Making sure essential signs are universally understood is another step that helps overall communication throughout a facility. Placing images and symbols around the homes and on important documents for staff can help assist with the comprehension of information or responsibilities. 

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, so using symbols and imagery could help ease communication stress or confusion for both staff and residents. 

Some extra assistance can of course be found in the use of technology. In cases where a resident has little to no English skills at all, translation apps can be effective methods of communication. Apps like iTranslate and Google Translate can translate over 100 languages. Google Translate also features a free text to speak option, proving its usefulness for particularly difficult situations. 

There are also specific tools that are available to assist in communication between staff. Mobile Care Monitoring is an app-based program developed by Person Centred Software, designed to streamline staff communication and the updating of progress notes process. The icon based program requires minimal typing, meaning that it’s harder for different language abilities to miscommunicate between paperwork, especially during handover periods. And, by going paperless, can save staff up to an hour per day in time spent on admin. This means that workers are able to devote more of their day to offering high quality personal care to the residents of the facility. 

Engaging in personal care is always going to require clear, concise and effective communication. But with differing language abilities and English comprehension making up our multicultural society, it’s important that we don’t always just assume that everyone we come into contact with will speak in the same way and at the same comprehension level as everyone else. 

Ensuring that there are methods and options available to ease the cross-cultural communication, both among staff and residents of aged care facilities, will only put the running of day to day tasks in good stead, and allow for better quality care.

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