A study based on more than 400,000 people found that older people who receive frequent visits from family and friends have a 39 per cent lower chance of dying. Researchers from the University of Glasgow examined how human connection can reduce the risk of death and found that regular visits from friends and family were the most important factors in extending life.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that visits from family often prompt people to seek health care, meaning they live longer. There is also a link with behavior: socially isolated people have more unhealthy habits, such as smoking or heavy alcohol consumption. They also cease or reduce healthy habits like exercising, keeping a regular schedule, and sleeping more than seven hours a day.
Among the factors that determine how isolated a person may feel are whether or not they participate in group activities, whether they live alone or with someone, and whether they receive visits from friends or family.
Interestingly, the study found that visiting grandparents more than once a month doesn’t offer any additional benefit in terms of mortality risk. Visiting grandma once a month can be a good protective measure, but it is not an altruistic act: the protective effect could be bidirectional.
“We are social animals. And that is regardless of our age,” said Prof. Hamish Foster, one of the researchers.
An expanded resource has been developed by nurses, doctors, industry experts, and consumer groups to help people navigate the complexities across the aged care sector.
The 10 Questions to Ask series was launched at Parliament House in Canberra by Federal Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney.
Ged said she welcomed the translated resources for people seeking residential and in-home aged care, which was developed by the NSW Aged Care Roundtable in collaboration with the NSWNMA.
The NSW Aged Care Roundtable includes medical, clinical, and consumer representatives, who used their expertise to collaborate on a series of 10 Questions to Ask leaflets, each providing a ‘top 10’ of suggested aged care-related questions and answers.
The information series have been endorsed by credible professional and advocacy organizations.
Each leaflet focuses on an individual aspect of aged care to increase consumer knowledge and make the journey into residential or in-home aged care simpler.
Following input from the Department of Health and Aged Care translation service, the leaflets have also been translated into 15 different languages, as well as six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, with support from the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra, and the Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) NSW & ACT.
The information is targeted at consumers searching for a high-quality residential aged care facility, or reviewing the quality of a current residential aged care facility, or deciding between similar service providers, in order to provide them with the tools to find the best service available.
More information: The leaflets can be found at: www.10questions.org.au
Australia’s subsidised aged care services now help around 1.5 million older people to receive care and support. Taxpayers contributed A$28 billion to the various programs in 2022-23. And yet the system is governed by an act that was first passed in 1997.
A lot has changed over the past two and a half decades – more people are living longer with chronic conditions and impairments that necessitate care, more of that care helps people stay in their own home, older people have more choice and control, and quality and safety are subject to tighter regulation and improved enforcement.
These and many other reforms are welcome. But as a result, the 1997 Aged Care Act has become a patchwork of change upon change. So when is the new act due, and what does it aim to achieve?
What we know so far
Following the report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the government is rewriting the act with a view to it commencing on July 1 2024 – less than five months from now.
Parts of an initial draft of the act have been released for public consultation. The proposed act adopts a rights-based approach to caring for older Australians, and consolidates and simplifies multiple pieces of existing legislation.
Some of the improvements will include:
- establishing a complaints commissioner to increase the independence and transparency of investigating aged care complaints
- increasing whistleblower protections so older people, their families and aged care workers feel comfortable about exposing unacceptable treatment from a provider
- streamlining access to aged care through a single-assessment process, rather than older people having to be assessed by different organisations depending on their particular care needs.
But several significant issues have yet to be addressed. The partial draft of the act lacks any provision relating to the proposed fees, payments and subsidies, or about how people with different needs will be prioritised and how aged care places will be allocated to them.
The act also makes many references to the government making rules about how the aged care system will actually operate. As always, the devil is in the detail but the rules have not yet been made public.
The new act also attempts to address the fundamental concern that Australia’s Constitution doesn’t provide the federal government with powers to make laws specifically for “aged care”. This is unlike the government’s powers over banking, marriage, the age pension and many other matters.
Instead, the act attempts to patch together a range of other powers, such as for providing sickness and hospital benefits and making binding international treaties (including disability support) under its external affairs powers.
It is unclear whether this approach will make the system too complex, compared with seeking agreement from the states to refer their powers to the federal government, or to enact a common set of laws on which both levels of government agree.
Federal Parliament will have the final say on what the act will contain and when it is passed.
How does this fit with other recent changes?
The new act aims to provide an enduring structure that brings the current aged care system, including recent reforms, into a single consistent regulatory regime.
The newly introduced residential care workforce standards, for instance, will be carried over to the new act. They include the requirement for 24/7 cover by registered nurses so nurses are always available to care for a resident when needed, at any time of the day or night.
The new levels of care minutes that nurses and other personal care workers must provide to residents will also be part of the new act.
The act will also include the Star Ratings for individual aged care homes. These help inform residents about the quality of the care their homes provide.
Will this be it for a while?
The recent changes to aged care are not the end of the decade-long reform journey.
In the immediate future there will be changes to payment arrangements for care as the government responds to the – yet to be released – report of the Aged Care Task Force.
Following that, a new Support at Home program is being designed to consolidate and streamline the current home care packages, short-term restorative care and respite care. Having already been deferred twice in recent years, the current proposed start date is July 1 2025.
The drafting of a modern, simplified act is an important opportunity to provide the best legislative regime for caring for older Australians.
But such an opportunity comes only once every decade or two. While the new legislation needs to put older people at its centre, it must also facilitate a system that is sustainable and sufficiently robust to support them to access subsidised care when they need it.
The broad framework is there, but there are less than five months to get the details right.
The festive season is fast approaching, and if you’re organising celebrations with family or friends, you might be grappling with a seemingly endless to-do list. But as you make these plans, it’s important to consider how you can best include any friends or loved ones living with dementia.
While no two people experience dementia in the exact same way, dementia often affects the way people process and respond to their environment. Too much stimulation – like a lot of noise and activity at a Christmas party – can be overwhelming and may cause confusion or agitation.
Finding ways to create a safe environment at home for your loved one with dementia will help maximise the chances everyone has a good time.
1. Plan ahead, but be flexible
Planning celebrations can be overwhelming for everyone involved, and having excessive expectations can raise stress levels. Try to keep expectations realistic and in line with the current needs of your friend or loved one living with dementia.
For example, people with dementia may experience changes in their appetite or food preferences, or difficulties chewing and swallowing. These changes might make some of the things on your festive menu unappetising or difficult to eat. Be guided by the needs and preferences of the person with dementia and keep options limited to one or two special foods if larger banquets are likely to be overwhelming.
Things can change quickly for people living with dementia and their abilities will likely vary from day to day. Try to be flexible and have a backup plan in place. For special events, plan to record speeches or ceremonies to share when things are quieter.
If you’re planning a large event, consider having a smaller gathering with your loved one with dementia and just a few special people.
2. Stick to the familiar
The sudden appearance of lots of decorations may be overwhelming for a person with dementia and trigger a negative sensory reaction or distress. Ensure decorations are safe and familiar and put them up slowly over a period of a few days.
Try to also stick to familiar traditions and routines. Daily routines are an important way of supporting people with dementia and sudden changes may result in agitation and distress. Stick to routine eating, bathing, and rest times where possible throughout the holiday period.
For many people with dementia, long-term memories are less affected than more recent memories. Familiar family traditions can therefore be a good way to reminisce. Family keepsakes or memory books can also help connect with stories from past celebrations.
3. Have a quiet space
Try to have a quiet place where the person living with dementia can go if things become overwhelming. Designating a support person who can stay with them throughout the day and take them to a separate room or area away from the action can help to keep things calm.
Having some familiar objects or quiet music in the space can be a good way to block out the noise of activities and reduce agitation.
4. Make sure everyone has a part
Everyone wants to feel a part of the activities on a special day, including people living with dementia. Ensuring everyone has a role to play may mean modifying tasks to suit the abilities of the person with dementia.
For example, if you’re hosting an event at home, try to get your friend or relative with dementia involved in the kitchen by tossing the salad or helping to set the table.
People with dementia are still the same person, even if their abilities have changed or they can no longer communicate their needs and feelings like they used to. It’s important to treat everyone with dignity and try to include your friends and loved ones with dementia in celebrations whenever possible.
Sometimes, you can’t be together
Despite the best laid plans, sometimes it won’t be possible to share in festive celebrations with your loved one living with dementia. More advanced dementia, aged care visitor restrictions or even just distance can keep many of us apart from our loved ones.
Be prepared for this separation to bring up your own feelings of grief or sadness. Look after your mental health as well as the person with dementia.
Caring responsibilities still largely fall to women and it’s important to share the load. Where possible, the holidays can be a good time to think about giving primary carers a break to help them recharge for the year ahead.
After my mother passed away, I turned my full attention towards aged care, becoming an assistant in nursing.
I wanted to help older Australians, and by help, I meant all the way. I knew there had to be a way to make a difference not just to individual people’s lives, but also to fix things and make the latter stage of life more dignified and supportive.
Fast forward 10 years and wow … what a difference we truly have made.
In 2017, I was asked to join other union members to stand up and fight for our rights, and the rights of all affected by the appalling conditions in aged care.
We were in crisis. We were a small handful of very passionate and very angry nurses who truly wanted to make a difference. Our targets were in line with what the Royal Commission handed down, and make a difference we did!
So far aged care nurses have won:
- labour agreements
- an RN 24/7
- pay increases
- care minutes and a voice for workers.
These are incredible wins and will make a real difference in the lives of aged care nurses and the residents we care for! But there is so much more that still needs to change.
We all need to stand together and fight for our basic human rights and for the rights of those we care for: the residents – people whose voice is often forgotten, neglected and overlooked.
Janine Quinn, AiN