Recent media coverage of aged care homes has shone a light to some of the more horrific things that are happening to older Australians in care.
But among the various homes that are being closed down, reported for abuse or simple offering poor quality of care, there are many places that are doing things right.
A positive environment creates good aged care – so what do the best aged care homes do that makes them stand out?
At the core of ‘quality care’ is the care workers – in aged care homes this includes everyone from carers to nurses, cleaners to kitchen staff.
A quality aged care workforce is created from a well functioning team that are all equipped and trained to do their job well.
For carers, it means understanding and managing the basics tasks that are important to a person’s quality of life.
There are simple tasks, like brushing a person’s teeth, bathing, changing clothes – things that everyday people may take for granted – these things however impact greatly on a resident living in aged care.
And it’s not just a matter of doing the basics, the best care come from staff who go beyond this and show interest and a kind nature to the elderly – even if the resident is not able to respond or reciprocate.
There also needs to be strong leadership, one that values elderly people and their contribution to society – which is reflective in the way they support staff to provide care well above minimum standards for the residents. Effective leaders set a positive example for staff to follow, and also promote a culture of openess to feedback and has the residents and staff’s best interest at heart.
Food can be a challenge in aged care – which is one of the most significant areas for complaint or dissatisfaction in a number of facilities.
The best facilities however offer a range of food, where residents have input into the menu. And it’s essential that the meals are made with fresh quality ingredients – kitchens should not depend heavily on processed or packaged food.
For many frail elderly people, there can be a struggle for them to feed themselves, so them may have to be fed.
It’s important the resident are not rushed and force fed, being allowed to eat at their own pace so that they are not only adequately fed, but nutritionally satisfied.
For residents who have dysphagia – problems swallowing – their food may need to be mashed or liquified. Carers and kitchen staff need to caters for these residents so that they can manage to consume their food.
A good facility will never underestimate the importance of making food visually appealing. If a meal doesn’t looks good – the resident won’t want to eat it.
A good dining experience can be a focal point in a resident’s day – so getting that right should be a priority.
Living in an aged care is not just about eating and sleeping and having a safe place to reside. The elderly residents needs to have some sort of entertainment and stimulation to pass the time.
There should be a range of activities, personalised and tailored to residents needs. For example, while some residents may enjoy watching movies, other may enjoy dancing or arts and crafts.
The activities that are offered should be age appropriate – which means not games that make residents feel undignified.
Not everyone enjoys the resident activities, and there should be choice in whether or not people participate.
The physical environment can affect a person’s mood – no matter their age or health condition.
Aged care facilities are expected to be clean and well maintained. Whilst it’s not always possible but certainly a positive is having access to a nice garden area, that is well maintained and a nice relaxing place for residents and their families to sit.
Natural light is also good for a person’s health, as it can affect the circadian rhythms (the internal clock that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, eat). Facilities that offer windows where the light can shine in both the resident’s rooms and in the shared common areas are always important things to look for. Whilst these modifications can not always be accommodated, the environment can have a significant impact on residents and their new life in the aged care home.
Natural light has been found to be beneficial to people who experience sundowning with their dementia symptoms.
The design of a facility should not cause a resident any distress. Some facilities have long corridors or room after room, which can be cold and clinical – and even reminiscent of a hospital.
More and more the discussion of ‘smaller’ homes or larger homes with ‘smaller’ groups of rooms put together, so that they facility feels more warm and neighbourly – and less overcrowded.
Within the room, there should be a comfortable bed for the resident. Without good quality sleep, a person can become restless and can have a negative impact on their health.
Communication is essential for all aged care staff, residents and their families. There needs to be regular and open discussions between staff and the loved ones, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
The last thing any family wants to experience is feeling like they were “left out of the conversation” when it came to the care and health of their loved one.
There should also be good communication between staff and the resident. The resident should feel as if they have a choice and are listened to – not simply having things done for them.
Without adequate communication, there can be a negative impact on a person’s mental health and overall quality of life.
When looking for aged care for a loved one, or even for yourself, remember the qualities that the best homes share – you should hope for nothing less when it comes to caring for the elderly.
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