Feb 21, 2022

Reawakening aged care’s withdrawn and socially isolated residents

Reawakening aged care’s withdrawn and socially isolated residents
Maurie and LP join forces for a song at SummitCare Wallsend.

However, like most things that are both unique and brilliant, describing what you have witnessed is no easy task.

Armed with a razor-sharp wit, his trusty ukulele and a lifetime worth of performing arts experience, Maurie specialises in providing the most socially withdrawn aged care residents with meaningful, human interactions.

While the job description may be straightforward, the skills required to be a successful Creative Elder Engagement Specialist are as diverse and interesting as the tactics that Maurie employs. 

“Street performers, people who have done interactive theatre, can be really good at this sort of work. You also have to have a bit of musicality. But, more than anything, I think you need to possess an innate curiosity about what makes people tick.”

Primarily working across the Hunter Valley region of NSW, Maurie visits multiple aged care homes throughout the week and holds one-on-one sessions with residents who have been identified as being socially withdrawn by staff at the home.

Generally, Maurie has regularly scheduled visits with individual residents, which helps Maurie build a rapport.

Each resident’s needs are different. And no two sessions are alike.

The Art of Freestyle

Much like an impromptu jazz solo, Maurie effortlessly shifts gears through his repertoire of techniques looking for an opening.

“A session might consist of music, it could be banter between the two of us, it could be jokes or ‘smartassery’ as I call it. It could also be reminiscence, ” said Maurie

“If it’s a performance, then that’s really just passive for someone, I’m looking to provoke responses and get something back from someone. And what that response is, dictates what I do with them.”

In what will come as no surprise to any aged care staff, Maurie has found that a large number of residents enjoy being mischievous and he has found great success in providing residents with opportunities to act on their cheeky impulses.

Maurie describes this strategy as mutual mischief, and his role in this process shifts from that of a target to a partner in mayhem.

Reawakening aged care’s withdrawn and socially isolated residents
SummitCare Wallsend: Not even harsh Covid protocols could prevent Mauire and Baz from making a connection.

“So, what they’re reading in a room or an environment, when someone comes to them, they’re reading the emotion, or the authenticity in the room. And if there’s an authentic person there without an agenda, I think that people open up.”

He continued, “You can talk about empathy. You can talk about creativity. For me, it’s curiosity, because when you’re actually attracted to finding out about a person it becomes more spontaneous and authentic because it’s real”.

Maurie’s mastery of meaningful engagement has yielded some amazing responses thus far, but there is one particular connection that stands out above the rest.

Mutual language

Aggressive, prone to violence, and non-compliant.

These were the adjectives used to describe the demeanour of a man who was identified as being a prime candidate for Maurie’s services.

Equipped with only the resident’s name, hometown, his former profession and a daunting description of his possible attitude towards their first meeting, Maurie proved that even the most unorthodox methods of communication can be the right recipe for some meaty discourse. 

“Now, butcher’s have their own backwards-speak, where they would turn words around in the old days so they could talk about the meat in front of their customers without giving anything away.

“So,, I lovingly wrote out a whole bunch of backward phrases and then practised them.”

The name ‘Rechtub’ is actually the word ‘butcher’ spelled backwards.

By addressing his elderly subject with this moniker and persisting with backwards-speak, Maurie soon noticed some changes in the man’s demeanor.

“I could see the wheels turning and I was watching this man and my God, he was sitting in such an awful place. I could see the grey, hard face set in stone and the eyes, it looked like he was in turmoil. But, he started to react, the more I said it.”

After piquing Rehctub’s ’s interest with backwards-speak, an unexpected forwardly spoken sentence became the catalyst for a breakthrough that very few people expected.

“I told Rehctub that I knew that he was from Junee, and then he asked me if I had ever been there, and I said that I had and that I knew there was a courthouse in Junee. He then told me he knew that courthouse well.”

Although previously thought of as ‘unreachable’ by those who knew him, Rehctub was now engaging in a full conversation with Maurie.

After noticing Rechtub staring at his ukulele, Maurie asked if Rechtub would be interested in hearing a song – to which Rechtub replied ‘what have you got?’

“I said to Rehctub, ‘Road to Gundagai or Click Go the Shears?’ And he said, ‘Road to Gundagai, thanks.’ And before I knew it he was tapping away and actually enjoying himself,” said Maurie.

“That was the start of a beautiful friendship between Rehctub and I, and it’s just been unbelievable. Those are the sorts of golden moments that I live for.”

Decreasing resistance

With the arrival of COVID forcing everyone working in aged care to adapt, Maurie began to engage seniors from outside the home using an innovative technique that he created known as ‘Window Therapy.’

As the pandemic continued, Maurie pivoted once again and began engaging seniors far and wide via video call using a technique that he has dubbed ‘Zoom Mates.’

While adept at engaging audiences of all sizes, one-on-one sessions that occur in person are proven to be the most effective strategy for Maurie’s line of work.

“The reason one-on-one is my focus is that I’m working with people that self-isolate,” said Maurie. 

Reawakening aged care’s withdrawn and socially isolated residents
Merton Living, Denman: Maurie found that his elder buddy 'MC' has a deep love for Arnott's biscuits which is a business that began in her local area.

He added, “Having said that though, there always needs to be a sense of community in play and I interact with all the elders as I manoeuvre through a facility and try to create relationships as I go.”

While the nature of Maurie’s interactions with residents are organic, the results of each encounter are well-documented.

These results are shared with the home’s multidisciplinary care team and used to inform strategies to help keep that resident engaged. It also allows team members to set realistic goals for a resident, pertaining to their level of social participation and overall happiness.

Working in close collaboration with aged care staff across multiple facilities, Maurie has established a number of close relationships. However, it is not uncommon for his initial presence at a facility to be met with some reservations by established staff.

“They might think that you’re just a performer singing music or that you’re treating the elders like infants and it takes a while for some people to understand that you’re actually working therapeutically and working deeply.”

Now well and truly established as an engagement specialist in the aged care space, Maurie hopes that growing levels of interest in this work will inspire those with suitable skill sets to get involved.

“Whenever an elder dies, a library burns down,” is Maurie’s favourite quote. 

“I want to keep the libraries open for as long as I can because this is a great fountain of knowledge and wisdom.

“These people should be sitting at the helms of our communities, and I just feel that it’s my duty as a participating citizen to keep those libraries open and to find and make sure there’s a legacy left behind.”

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  1. As his daughter I can absolutely say he’s an authentic person without an agenda. Reading this makes me full to the brim with pride!!!

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