Why do so many aged care homes fail to celebrate special occasions on the correct day?

Aged care celebrations

This issue was raised recently in a social media post by gerontologist Dr Rodney Jilek, Managing Director at Community Home Australia. It sparked vigorous debate, with parties expressing their views on both sides of the argument. 

Some said marking special occasions on an alternative date would never occur in a home they managed, while others provided good reasons they do move dates around slightly.

The discussion got the team at HelloCare thinking, and we decided to take a look into the issue.

The importance of rituals 

Marking special occasions, whether it be Eid al-Fitr, Mother’s Day or a birthday, is one of the important ways we define ourselves. Coming together to celebrate these events, even for those who don’t pay great importance to ritual, reflects our values and culture, and who we are as a person. They stand as milestones in our lives, giving shape to the years, marking the expansion (and sometimes contraction) of families, and even the changing of the seasons.

Celebrating special days is also one of the ways friends and families gather together, to pay their respects, to perform rituals, or simply share a meal and a glass of wine and catch up.

While some dread get-togethers of this type, for many they are something to look forward to for months and savour.

Cost benefits

So, why do aged care homes so often make the decision to celebrate special days on a different date?

Jilek told HelloCare the main reason aged care homes switch days around is to save money.

For mass birthday celebrations held once a month, Jilek said because often large numbers live in an aged care home “it is much easier and cheaper to hold one monthly birthday event for everyone born in that month than hold multiple events.” 

Why not hold two celebrations?

Angelika Koplin has worked in aged care since 1992 in roles ranging from personal carer to CEO. Currently Principal Consultant Aged Care Strategies and Support, she said there is no “sinister” reason aged care managers mark special occasions on a different date, it’s a matter of practicality and often fits in with the resident and family’s wishes.

Aged care managers often make the “reasonable assumption” that “families will take their loved one out for the day”.

Aged care peak body Leading Age Services Australia CEO, Sean Rooney, agreed. He told HelloCare that many of their member aged care providers hold ceremonies on a day close to the actual event, but not on the day, to fit in the resident’s wishes.  

“Many of our members find that on days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or a birthday, the family or friends will take the resident out for the day to celebrate the occasion.”

Rooney said there are other practical reasons dates might be changed. For example, on Anzac Day, the RSLs and veterans are attending services in the community and therefore can’t attend aged care homes.

Rooney said “the majority” of aged care homes don’t make these decisions to save money, and that in its Member Charter, LASA encourages providers to be consumer-centred.

Koplin came up with the perfect compromise – hold celebrations on a different date and on the actual date.

“Have a Christmas party for the residents on a day before Christmas, and have a beautiful Christmas lunch where families are invited to participate on the actual day. It’s not that hard!”

Monthly birthday parties “demeaning”

Koplin believes there are some occasions that should always be marked on the actual day: birthdays.

“All the homes I was leading as a CEO honoured the resident on the day with a cake and a ‘Happy Birthday‘, at a minimum.”

Aged care shouldn’t be different

Jilek believes aged care residents should be able to mark special occasions on the correct date just like everyone else can.

“Why should people not celebrate an event on the right day just because they live in a nursing home?” he asked.

“Would you be happy if you were a war veteran to celebrate ANZAC Day the week before the main event just because it was more convenient for your accommodation provider?”

“We are supposed to be engaged in person-centred care and our systems are supposed to be geared to the individual, so holding mass birthday parties on some arbitrarily chosen day is not in line with this,” Jilek said.

Small homes have greater flexibility

Later this year, Jilek will open Kambera House, a concept he has been formulating for years. The aim at Kambera will be to offer an alternative to mainstream aged care, in a specially modified home in the midst of a residential community, with a focus on personalised care.

“Kambera House is limited to just six guests and has a base staffing ratio of 1:3. We are able to provide care that is completely person-centred and flexible to changing needs,” Jilek told HelloCare.

“Whether it be a religious observance, a special event or just a preference, we will cater for it, and wherever possible include the guest’s community, just like they would if they were living at home. 

“Our staffing will be the same regardless of whether it is a weekday, a weekend or a public holiday, so the day of the week is irrelevant,” Jilek said.

“This is the advantage of small scale residential care established with the guest as the focus point.”

How does the resident feel about it?

In the end, there are reasons for and against celebrating special occasions on an alternate date.

Some say families like to take residents out on special occasions, so it’s good to mark the occasion in the aged care home on a different date. When people from the community can’t share in the special occasion on the correct date, it makes sense to change the day.

But some say changing the date is only done to save costs, because providers don’t wish to pay for more staff on a weekend or public holiday, when these special occasions usually occur.

Some say changing the date indicates the resident is not receiving person-centered care.

However, all agreed it’s important to mark birthdays on the correct date.

At the end of the day, what is most important is how the resident feels about the decision. Do they feel respected and listened to? Have their needs been met? Is the celebration in keeping with the significance of the event for the resident and family?

What do you think? Does your home mark special occasions on the actual date or does it make alternative plans? How have these practices worked for the carers and the residents?

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  1. I feel very strongly about the birthday of the resident being acknowledged on the actual day. Not so long ago that was always the case. The cake baked for the morning tea of the residents was decorated, candles added and a group of staff and whoever was available lit the candles for that resident. They sang happy birthday and the cake was cut. A couple of balloons added to round out the occasion.

    This idea of a monthly “job lot” birthday celebration is indeed very demeaning and in no sense “person centred”. Birthdays should not be shared. The essence of a birthday is that it is your own special day.

    Bring back the individual celebrated birthdays please.


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