The age services sector has been hit hard in 2020. Residents are disproportionately represented in COVID death statistics and the carers supporting them have been put under considerable, additional strain.
So how might we reduce the impact on this sector and ensure it emerges from COVID stronger and better equipped for dealing with this type of challenge in the future.
Understanding the current challenge
The elderly represent one of the most at risk segments of the population when it comes to contracting and dying from COVID-19. Not only are many of the elderly immunocompromised, they are also living in higher density accommodation with regular contact with each other and their support workers.
This ‘perfect storm’ has not only meant the virus has spread rapidly through these communities, but it has also added significant pressures and stress to the already time-poor, and critically important carers and nurses supporting them.
Care workers are critical to reducing and managing infection rates, but it goes beyond telling them to update their work practices—as knowing what best practice is, and how to implement it—is a challenge many don’t have time or the skills to tackle on their own.
Addressing the challenge
Helping aged care workers update their care practices needs to involve both provision of best practice information, and also support in the delivery and reflection of that new practice.
This second part, support in the delivery and reflection of that new practice is fundamentally important, and is often overlooked in capability development and change management. We have access to more information than ever before, yet we are seeing higher rates of obesity, depression and ill-formed opinions. This is because information alone does not change behaviour. This same reality applies to age services.
What is needed is a behavioural trigger, something to incentivise, reward and prompt the user for enacting the desired behaviour. Humans resist change because it takes cognitive, social, physical and financial effort and risk to act in a new way.
Behavioural science may hold part of the solution
Behavioural science is the study of human behaviour, and includes neuroscience, social psychology, behavioural economics, gamification, human-computer interface and more.
Behavioural science is the scientific revolution of our day. Never before has there been such a focus on human behaviour to address the critical challenges we face as a society. It is already being used to address COVID in various contexts, from adaptations of common songs (like happy birthday) to teach people how to wash hands, to the development and spread of phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flatten the curve’ to educate and inform people on complex disease transmission science in ways that are memorable and actionable.
Behavioural science gives us a structure, methodology and vocabulary to better understand, predict and shift behaviour.
The top performing organisations and governments are using behavioural science to revolutionise their businesses, and help their people thrive. It holds significant promise in age services, in particular, reducing worker stress and ameliorating infection rates in the elderly.
Gamification as a tool to address COVID infection in aged care
New behaviours require clarity, quantification and social feedback in order to become a habit, and this is especially true for team behaviours where social feedback is important to create new norms and interactions.
Gamification is the use of game mechanics and experience design to engage users and solve real world problems.
Applying game mechanics, whether it be badges for achievement, a visual progress bar, surprise elements, and team success, this approach can be applied in a range of areas including:
For seniors, the possibilities are endless. Recently, The Guardian featured an article on how the user of badges and virtual exploration through stationary bikes to engage elders and encourage physical activity. Gamification is also being used to support the seniors in calibrating their hearing devices.
For care workers, gamification can be used to make learning modules more interactive, engaging and effective, and to celebrate individual and team wins.
Gamification can be used in the workplace by providing clear tasks, behaviours and goals, rewarding individuals for engaging in this behaviour, and visualising and celebrating team progress towards organisational goals. The benefits include fewer care workers working sick, lower incidence of patient infection, and increased compliance with scientific guidelines.