This week is Social Inclusion Week, a time to acknowledge how important social interaction is for maintaining the health and wellbeing of older people, as well as highlight what you can do to promote and encourage social inclusion.
As the aged care community make steps to combat the negative health impacts of loneliness and isolation on older people, this week is a perfect time to think about how aged care workers can facilitate social connection and inclusion for their aged care clients.
Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Craig Gear, said this week gives aged care workers the opportunity to ask older people they care for how they want to stay connected.
“We know that social isolation and loneliness can be as bad for you as smoking,” Mr Gear said.
“To be able to connect with family, friends, the community and other residents in a care facility in a way that the older person wants to is such a positive thing to maintain and it’s a responsibility for aged care workers to ensure that can happen.
“Providers and aged care workers should work with the older person to understand who and what is important for them, and this week, it’s especially important to ask them: ‘who do you want to connect with?’.”
So what can you do as an aged care worker to increase social inclusion?
Workers in aged care can play an important role in ensuring older people are socially connected and included in their communities.
Aged care providers and workers have responsibilities under the Aged Care Quality Standards to ensure that each older person accessing aged care are supported to exercise their choice and independence, and are able to stay socially connected.
Under Standard 1, aged care workers and providers have to make sure the older people in their care can maintain the relationships they choose – including intimate ones.
This could be through facilitating meetings between family and older people by making the surrounding environment welcoming and setting aside space so that interaction can happen.
Over recent years, aged care workers have been stepping up by assisting older people in their care to utilise different mediums to contact loved ones, including video or phone calls, or window visits.
Similarly, the Charter of Aged Care Rights outlines that older people accessing aged care have the right to have control over and make decisions over their personal lives, which can include maintaining their social life if they were part of a social group like a car club, or wish to engage with friends.
Not all older people have opportunities to socialise, as about 40% of people living in residential aged care don’t receive regular visitors.
This is where the role of an aged care worker can go beyond their daily tasks and open the door for aged care clients to have a connection with someone and stay involved in their community.
“An aged care worker could be that key connection that keeps someone socially included – knowing that someone wants to have a relationship with another human, an aged care worker could be an important person in a resident’s life,” said Mr Gear.
“The best thing an aged care worker can do is provide the great relational-based care that they’re so good at.”
If you notice that an older person in your care is disconnected, you can engage the older person in social activities and get them interacting with others in a few simple ways:
Some cases of assistance can be as simple as ensuring that an older person is able to attend their pre-organised social engagements.
Social Inclusion Week’s aim is to encourage communities to reconnect and be inclusive of all cultures, age groups, nationalities and abilities and aged care workers play an important part in ensuring social connection can take place.
How do you keep your aged care clients connected? Tell us in the comments below.