Dec 12, 2018

Is It O.K For An Aged Care Resident To Die Alone?

The end of a person’s life should be sacred.

As the hours and minutes wind their way down towards the inevitable expiration of an individual’s life, the final moments are perhaps more precious than any of the moments that came before them.

For some, this may be a period of reflection. A chance to look back and take stock of a lifetime full of memories, and replay the things that you cherish the most, one last time in your mind.

Some of these memories may involve family members, and if you are lucky enough, some of these peoples faces may be in the room with you sharing stories, holding hands and sharing kisses as they say their final goodbyes.

There is an undeniable warmth and comfort in knowing that you are loved and cared for, and these feelings mean even more when you are facing hard times.

But unfortunately, for a number of the elderly people who have died within the confines of a residential aged care facility, these dreams are nowhere close to being realistic, and have sadly been replaced with a nightmare scenario instead.

The Start Of A Bad Dream

Living in an aged care facility can be a lonely existence for some of our less fortunate Australian elderly.

And those with little to no family, face many of their life’s most daunting moments alone or with an aged care employee by their side for a few fleeting moments.

The pressures currently being placed on staff within facilities are at an all time high, and often result in employees being unable to spend as much time catering to a residents emotional needs as they would like to.

This lack of staffing has ultimately resulted in a priority based approach to care at times depending on acuity.

As grim of a reality as it sounds, the fact of the matter is that facilities are in this business of housing you and whilst they do everything to keep you well, for some elderly when they are on the verge of death, there may not always be adequate amount of staff to sit with you until you die.

Sadly, there are a large number of elderly Australians dying completely alone in aged care facilities all around the country, and facing the most daunting thing that a person could ever encounter in their final stages of life.

HelloCare was recently contacted by a now, ex-nurse, who was who was saddened by inadequate staffing and the effect that it had on her ability to care.

She also shared the reality of those dying in facilities and why it prompted her to eventually leave working in aged care.

“One of my favourite residents was very close to death. He would constantly verbalise how scared he was at the prospect of dying and I was on shift at this point.”

“I was the only nurse rostered on, and I had to attend to another resident that had a fall and do the medication round. So I personally organised a carer to stay with this man until he eventually died. But I found out afterwards that this carer was pulled away to help other residents also in need.”

“It was at this point that I really felt I let this resident down, and I was saddened that I couldn’t give him the death he deserved,” she said.

The Problem

While aged care facilities have a number of systems in place geared towards resident health and wellbeing, there are actually very few that have any ironclad procedure in place ensuring that a resident does not die alone.

Resulting in a large proportion of lonely deaths.

Staffing ratios have been a hot topic of discussion within the aged care sector for a long period of time, and instances like this typify the frustrations from both the aged care workforce and the public at large.

If facility staffing numbers were increased or extra staff were called into a facility upon a nurse’s clinical assessment that a resident was near death, there would be very little circumstances in which a resident could die alone.

Sadly, a large number of nurses and carers are more than willing to assist in comforting a resident at this point, but many are simply not able to due to resources, and are being tasked with other important needs such delivering medications, other sick or complex needs residents.

Human contact and meaningful interaction is integral to the overall quality of an elderly person’s life, especially when they are on the verge of death.

And there should no circumstance in which a vulnerable person is made to face the final daunting moments of their life still being afflicted by the feelings of social isolation and loneliness that currently plague a large proportion of aged care residents.

Surely, in their final hours, there must come a time when facilities feel that a person’s need to die with the comfort of a familiar face or helping hand, supersedes the financial impact of adding more staff or utilising a flexible enough roster to facilitate these occasions.

Because even though not everyone will have the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones when they die, at the very least, there should be evidence that those who were caring for you actually cared.

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  1. This is so true I have been able to be there with some residents when families have been unable to sit with their family member, or this is no family member. But time restraints and workloads often mean a resident dies alone.

  2. Wow, who approved this article? What a disappointment Hellocare.

    I understand the sentiment, and the real issue of staff ratios, but you have articulated this terribly . here!
    “so when they know you are on the verge of death, you suddenly begin to tumble down the priority list.” – That is absolutely not true!
    “facilities are in this business of housing” – for the owners and CEOs yes. But the people on the floor everyday that is not the case. We CARE for people, the business’s empty beds and profits don’t impact our every work or behaviour.
    You would never hear someone say “schools are in the business of babysitting” or “when you’re not a good student, you’re not the teachers priority”, so why is this ok to say here?

    How dare you – this article is actually offensive to the many hard working aged care workers like myself and my coworkers. We were actually talking about how awful this article depicts aged care at morning tea today.
    And it would seem many agree with me. Just look at the Facebook comments.

    1. Dear Jen,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment and we are sorry if it offended you and it certainly wasn’t HelloCare’s or our writers intention.

      I feel that the point our writer was trying to articulate may have got lost in some of the language. The purpose of these piece was not to be critical of the dedicated staff that care for the elderly. More so about the lack of resources and how many nurses/carers need to prioritise their work and sometimes when you have to prioritise between someone that’s had a serious fall or someone that’s “dying” all though no imminent you need to choose between the most critical as you can’t be in both places at once.

      We will make sure that we are more careful with our language going forward.

      We do hope you will continue to read our articles.

  3. It is sad to die alone in a nursing home, no doubt about it but many more frail and elderly are dieing alone at home or in a hospital. It shouldn’t matter if you are old or young, dieing in a bed, or a car accident or taken by a shark!!
    It is unfortunate that people, some percentage will leave the world on their own and alone.
    Kids, babies are being bashed and abused and those stories barely hit the news. Shame on the media and associated groups for propergating a bad news story and bashing aged care facilities without balanced facts.
    I’m pretty sure we could find out how many people passed away in RACS, now tell me about the other just as permanent and sad passings elsewhere please

    1. Isn’t it time we all understood the meaning of Compassionate Communities”? Whether a person is dying in residential care or in their own home, if a community commits to the Compassionate Communities ethos, there can be many volunteers willing and ready – and trained – to sit with a dying person or to give their carer some rest time.

  4. In the late ninetees early 2000 I was an aged care worker,I can relate to some of the above comments,due to lack of enough government funding…You do become attached to your residents…if I knew a resi was coming to the end of his/her life I would make sure there trolley was cleaned off,place Family photo’s on it,if they had any & the ability to see…I am a firm believer in palliative care…They had a nice quilt on there bed,a CD player was playing some serene music or there favourite artists…Also if they had Rosary beads,place them in there hands…If the resident still could swallow,offer them a small drink to keep there hydration up…Also some crème to keep there lips moisturised..AND I believe if there was no Family around I tried to place a fluffy toy in there hands…I found that the resi’s looked for or felt for it…They were a definite comfort to them…My best mate in life is my little fur baby,Tiny…When my time comes I hope someone puts a small fluffy dog in my arms…Better still bring Tiny to me for a final hug…

  5. From my experience, as an RN working in Aged Care, this article is totally WRONG! No facility lowers the care of a dying resident: in fact, their care increases dramatically. We try our best to make sure nobody dies alone, but with chronic understaffing it can be difficult to have staff with them. In such cases, the family and friends play a huge part in easing their dying relatives passing. Remember, we go above and beyond to make death a comfortable and uniquely special moment. We play favourite music, scented oils, massage, favourite pictures, and hold hands. We sometimes, if time allows, will sing.

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