Nov 21, 2022

Workbook offers guidance on trauma-informed care

21_11_22 trauma informed care

A “how-to” guide on trauma-informed care has been published to help care for older Australians who have experienced trauma and guide aged care workers to provide the best possible care.

Australia’s National Centre of Excellence in Posttraumatic Mental Health, Phoenix Australia, has released the Trauma-Informed Care Workbook as a guide to trauma-informed practice in aged care.

Many older Australians, especially those in aged care, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and have felt the impact of this trauma on their wellbeing and mental health.

A traumatic event like the pandemic and other distressing instances like vehicle accidents or childhood abuse can cause people to live with the effects years after they have occurred, which is why it is essential for aged care workers to be trained on how to accommodate the effects of trauma while they are caring.

This is a factor that was recognised by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which backed the need for this training and emphasised the role aged care services can play in meeting the physical and cognitive needs of care recipients and enhancing their mental health and wellbeing. 

The Commission also highlighted the need to increase knowledge about the impact of severe stress, loss and trauma on those who use aged care services.

Director, Policy & Service Development at Phoenix Australia, Anne-Laure Couineau, said older people can show signs of distress when entering aged care and emphasised the importance of building a trusting relationship with them to give them a sense of control over their care. 

“Some older people may be a bit more vulnerable, agitated or aggressive when entering aged care and often that is because they’re feeling distressed, not because they’re being difficult,” she explained.

“Trauma-informed care helps us understand why people behave the way they do.”

Phoenix Australia’s workbook is designed to assist aged care leaders and managers in introducing trauma-informed care practices to deliver support services that are responsive to the needs of older people through person-centred care.

The workbook will also give managers guidance on how to support their staff who are on the frontline. 

Ms Couineau said this resource offers an introduction to trauma-informed practice and gives practical tips and skills on how to properly care for residents and the aged care workforce. 

“Most older people would have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime and they become more vulnerable to trauma as they get older, especially as they become vulnerable to things like elder abuse,” she said. 

“The other really important aspect is providing support and protecting the wellbeing and safety of workers while they are at work as well. 

“They need to feel emotionally and physically safe too for them to be able to support older people. If they feel they are being supported, they are much more likely to be responsive to the needs of older people.”

What is trauma-informed care?

The effects of trauma can be complicated by stressful life events that are more common in older people and further exacerbated by transitioning into residential aged care.

Loss and bereavement, chronic physical health problems, social isolation and transitioning into residential aged care are all factors that can compound or bring up the effects of trauma, which can lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

The effects can often be felt by an older person’s family or extended support network too and can impact how that person interacts with care staff.

Person-centred care provides the foundation of trauma-informed care and involves key elements:

  1. Understanding the effects of trauma, how common it is, how it can change behaviour and how aged care may be a reminder of past trauma in order to make a trauma reduction plan 
  2. Creating a safe environment for older people that promotes trust by doing what you say you will do and treating them with respect and dignity
  3. Providing choice and control to older people by giving them a voice, sharing the decision-making process, explaining what will happen in their care experience, and asking for permission before performing care duties on them
  4. Building connections between older people and staff and even external connections while promoting quality of life, building on the older person’s existing skills, supports and routines and focusing on their goals 
  5. Supporting staff safety and wellbeing while they are caring and accommodating to their own trauma experiences 

Trauma-informed care does not mean pressuring staff or older people to speak about the details of their trauma, nor is it considered a form of counselling or treatment for trauma. 

For more resources about trauma-informed care, visit the Pheonix Australia website

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