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Creative ideas to fight social isolation among older people

Aged care organisations and providers have been coming up with creative ways to engage their older residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Different aged care organisations have been adapting the way they provide care and are actively finding ways to keep their residents engaged, happy and connected.  [Source: Shutterstock]
Different aged care organisations have been adapting the way they provide care and are actively finding ways to keep their residents engaged, happy and connected. [Source: Shutterstock]

For the safety of older residents, many aged care facilities have closed their doors to visitors to lessen the likelihood of COVID-19 getting into nursing homes.

During this difficult time, different aged care organisations have been adapting the way they provide care and are actively finding ways to keep their residents engaged, happy and connected with different technology, activities and initiatives.

Whether it is through handwritten letters, music therapy, or virtual hugs, providers have been inventing creative solutions to a big problem currently manifesting in aged care - loneliness.

Silent discos and videos bringing life into aged care

Four Uniting aged care homes in New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have been trialling a special entertainment technology to enhance the wellbeing of their residents.

Moove & Groove is a social enterprise providing isolated residents with immersive activities, like personally curated music, podcasts and videos, and even courses on yoga and meditation.

Residents at the Uniting aged care homes listen to different programs from a tablet computer through wireless headphones with their aged care workers.

Georgene McNeil, Dementia Behaviour Specialist and Practice Lead at Uniting NSW/ACT, says, "This is really revolutionising care for our residents, especially those with dementia. It's been a while since I've seen our residents so relaxed and happy, which is extremely important in these times.

“The joy and connection Moove & Groove is creating for our residents is unlike anything I have seen in residential care. 

"For so many of our residents, it is the antidote to loneliness and isolation; it brings them back to life as they listen to music and engage with staff and communicate with each other. It really is music therapy on tap!” 

Founder Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Moove & Groove, Alison Harrington, says that older Australians need to feel moments of connection during such a stressful time, while also bringing calm and happiness to those older residents.

“Moove & Groove can be used safely during times of infection control, is quick and easy to set up and uses remote wireless technology," says Ms Harrington.

“The silent disco technology allows residents to immerse themselves fully in the experience of the content. They can listen alone or together in groups, which stimulates interest, engagement and connection."

This program is a part of a one-year research program with Australian Catholic University, which is looking into reducing medication in residential aged care homes.

Reminiscing on tough times; loving messages from younger generations

Western Australian (WA) aged care provider, Bethanie, has a number of initiatives running at the moment to support their residents through difficult times. 

The Bethanie Kingsley Aged Care Home in Western Australia is encouraging residents to reminisce on their past history and compare their earlier challenges with the current COVID-19 issues they are experiencing.

93 year old resident, Aileen Williams, has been sharing her personal stories of The Great Depression in the 1920's and 30's and World War II during these discussions, telling other residents about how they had to ration food to cope on a day to day basis. 

Ms Williams has even been showcasing old memorabilia from that time, including ration tickets and songbooks, to share with the residents and staff at Bethanie Kingsley.

"The rationing went on for a long time and everyone just worked together, helped each other and shared. Hard times like these bring out the best in people to help them pull through and all the songs helped people cope too," says Ms Williams.

“We all used to learn them, and we’d have singalongs. And if you have a look at these books you can see that they all come with jokes attached. It’s really important to have a good laugh. About anything really.”

Bethanie Kingsley Physiotherapist, Naomi Van Bentum, adds that, "We already have a few comedian residents who tell us a joke as we pass them in the hallway, we’ll just share it around a bit more. Keeping spirits high at times like these is our main priority.”

The Bethanie Beachside residents in Yanchep, WA, have been receiving handwritten messages and drawings from Year 3 students at Two Rocks Primary School.

Previously the children had been visited by their "friends at Bethanie" in 2019 when they were in Year 2, so the now Year 3 students are returning the kind gesture by writing letters and special pictures for the residents.

Some of the residents have letters directly addressed to them because of the special relationships they developed with some of the students.

Edwin Mileham, Bethanie resident, was one lucky resident who had a personalised letter from student Emily.  

The letter read:

To Edwin, Seniors citizens are special because they are very kind, generous and of course they have been on earth longer than us! I wish you good luck. I love you all and I hope you are all doing good. I do remember Edwin. I hope you are all great, goodbye Bethanies! PS Edwin is generous, beautiful and of course kind. From Emily. D.

Occupational Therapist at Bethanie Beachside, Emily Baker, says “It is times like these when a little note like this can absolutely lift everyone’s spirits. I encourage more people to do it as it brings such a huge smile to the faces of our residents.

“It was such a thoughtful and meaningful gesture from the students at Two Rocks Primary School and when the time comes where we can connect the two groups again, I am sure Edwin will be most pleased to personally thank Emily for his letter.”

Send virtual hugs to residents in aged care

Aged care provider, Benetas in Victoria, has been encouraging families, friends and carers who have loved ones in their residential aged care homes to share messages of hope and love during the pandemic.

Since the facilities are following strict social distancing requirements, the provider is supporting the health and wellbeing of their residents through Benetas' online Virtual Hug tool.

It reminds everyone involved that while physical distancing is important, so is meaningful relationships and social connections.

Families, friends and carers can share written messages and photos to their loved ones in Benetas aged care facilities.

CEO of Benetas, Sandra Hills OAM, believes they have been seeing people in the State make big gestures of care and love towards their elderly loved ones even though they can't see them in person.

“As a provider of aged care and community health, we want to remind the community that while they mightn’t be able to physically see or visit their loved ones during this period, relationships and love will never be postponed or cancelled," says Ms Hills.

The tool has been utilised by family to send messages of love and care, with one family sharing a new great-grandchild to one of Benetas' residents.

“They reflect the incredible care and love we all have for our elderly family members. We are happy to provide a new and innovative way for families to express this during a difficult time," says Ms Hills.

“It’s imperative that we’re sharing messages of care, and that we’re actively encouraged to look out for one another if we’re going to build a community that’s supporting those who are going to be most vulnerable.

“Benetas works with over 8000 older Victorians providing essential aged care and health care services. As such it’s imperative that we do all that we can to protect their health and safety, and that also means promoting kindness during this time.”

Tele-Friend program launches for isolated older Australians

The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) has launched a Tele-Friend program, in partnership with aged care and health provider, ComLink, to connect isolated older people with USC Counselling students for a weekly chat.

Students from the USC Counselling and Wellbeing Clinic will be connecting with older ComLink clients who require support and companionship either via a weekly phone call or a telehealth-like video call. 

Older people who are limiting their interactions with others or are experiencing visitor restrictions are being invited by the USC Counselling and Wellbeing Clinic to book a weekly chat.

Dr Mark Pearson, Master of Counselling Program Coordinator, says the final year students have received evidence-based training on how to boost resilience and would be supervised by qualified clinical counsellors during the calls.

“Our students know how to converse in a way that lifts spirits and enhances wellbeing at a time when people are feeling particularly isolated or lonely,” says Dr Pearson.

“The plan is that they will develop an ongoing relationship with an older person and arrange a certain time each week for the call.

“These students know the importance of really hearing what someone is saying and letting them share their worries, but then also when to turn the conversation to positive memories and to remembering times when clients have coped well in the past, and how they can do so again.”

Dr Pearson adds that many older people do have clear memories of tough times, including World War II, and could be gently reminded of how they had found the resilience to cope.

“Students will be helping clients to review and reconnect with their strengths to retell and relive positive experience connected with positive emotions,” explains Dr Pearson.

“For us at USC, this is a very uplifting project. It’s taken some creative thinking but it’s actually a win-win because it helps our students complete their required client hours while supporting the community.”

The USC Counselling and Wellbeing Clinic is also offering tele-health counselling services to clients utilising ComLink, call on 0458 811 220 or send an email to counsellingclinic@usc.edu.au on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide's COVID-19 update page. 

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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