During this crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the age services industry has inadvertently been handed its greatest opportunity to shift focus, and rapidly apply meaningful change that will enable us to come out of this with an industry better than the one we entered. This situation has created a sense of community, innovative solutions to the challenges presented, and a focus on meaningful engagement and wellbeing.
For many years, I have been a passionate advocate for having purpose and meaningful activities in the health and wellbeing of our older demographic. An emerging body of evidence clearly suggests this is critical for real and tangible health benefits, and to reduce decline and illness.
Even pre-Covid, we had not been able to effectively balance and tolerate risks, and engage our clients in assessment and decision-making—thus incrementally removing their capacity to live lives of purpose. In doing so, we have created unwellness and decline.
This pathway of disengagement upon which older people are placed often rapidly leads to isolation, depression, and loss of cognitive function, hastening other forms of dysfunction and physical decline. Once commenced, and without positive intervention focused on reablement and restoration through meaningful activity, the trajectory becomes self-perpetuating.
Older persons seek value in their lives, whatever their situation. Studies show that purposeful ageing through meaningful activity improves mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It reduces blood pressure, enhances cognition, increases strength, and defers physical decline.
Our role within the aged care sector is to facilitate older persons being able to engage in activities that are still meaningful to them. We need to listen, and better understand what is important to them and what brings them joy, and in turn, design therapeutic supports and services that help them to help themselves to do the things they want.
So, it stands to reason that with the imposed Covid-19 restrictions implemented to protect our most vulnerable, the effects felt will be amplified.
The value of purpose during this time of COVID-19
Never has the message of purpose been more pertinent than during this pandemic as we battle through the imposed social distancing restrictions of Covid-19. Even as restrictions begin to loosen, seniors remain a vulnerable population as evidenced by the virus outbreaks in aged care communities across the world.
For many, social distancing will increase feelings of loneliness and despair due to restricted access to families and loved ones, and the cancellation of social outings and group activities.
However, keeping seniors safe during this time does not mean they can no longer be engaged in meaningful activities that fill them with purpose and joy. This is where innovation and human-centred practices becomes paramount.
Adversity breeds creativity
Creativity and innovation will be needed to ensure we are meeting the needs of our residents and clients not only during this pandemic, but also going forward. I have been inspired by the numerous stories of innovation that have emerged over recent weeks, demonstrating how organisations and individuals across the country have worked together to ensure their clients and residents remain connected to families and the outside world.
Technology has been embraced through video-linking residents with their families to enable continued communication. Equally, Telehealth has been widely adopted to ensure that relevant services can continue to be delivered safely “at a distance”.
For many, this will have been the first time that they have been introduced to iPads and smart phones, demonstrating that it is never too late to learn new technologies. Some families have even found ways to continue with modified versions of family traditions, such as collectively making traditional Easter biscuits with multiple families across multiple locations over zoom, where lifelong and treasured recipes have been shared with children and grandchildren.
Innovation is not just about technology
Communication has also taken on a whole new meaning with the creation of “windows of love”, facilitating loved ones to communicate face-to-face with phones across windows, or glass screens.
There have been many heart-warming examples of seniors in isolation or locked down facilities, still wanting to contribute in their own way to the community during this time. Some residents have been using their well-honed skills in dressmaking to create masks with fabric supplied to them. This has given them meaningful daily activity and a sense of empowerment, in an otherwise powerless situation.
At AvantiCare, we have teamed up with a local aged care organisation to support our “20 acts of kindness” project. A number of residents have established knitting groups and with wool provided by AvantiCare, these residents are producing scarves and beanies that will be supplied to a local shelter for victims of domestic violence. It was heart-warming to see the excitement on the residents’ faces, when they received the wool packs. These residents felt so much purpose through this small gesture, and were overjoyed that they could utilise skills that were of value to the greater community.
These are examples of how creating opportunities for connection between aged care and local community can offer a strong sense of purpose, and feelings of being valued well into their senior years.
Is there a need in the community that can be supported through your services? I encourage all organizations to think about their skillsets and capabilities, and consider how they can adapt their offerings to create opportunities for greater connection and integration with the local community.
The silver lining
It has taken a global pandemic to shift mindsets towards a focus on what really matters in the lives of those we care for, and to drive innovation and place a spotlight on purpose and meaningful engagement. What is even more encouraging is how this has been achieved in only a matter of weeks!
This demonstrates what is truly possible when we collaborate as an industry for a common goal. If we can accomplish this with so many restrictions and barriers in place, then the opportunities for positive change are more than achievable once we are on the other side.
This is the silver lining that we need to embrace from Covid-19. We must use this opportunity for change as a catalyst for long-term transformation, leveraging the kick-start we have been given to build the momentum towards a stronger aged care sector than before.
Adversity is challenging, yet it can build strength and resilience in people and business which can lead to unexpected possibilities. As the old saying goes; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Lidia Conci is Managing Director of AvantiCare