Living well in an aged care home

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Media Release

We hear a lot of heart-breaking stories about neglect and abuse in aged care homes. We hear much less about older people who are living happily.

“The most reliable indication that residents are living well is their demeanour”, says Dr Sarah Russell, a public health researcher and aged care advocate. “Families are reassured when residents are happy, well groomed, pleased to see staff members and call the aged care home their “home”.

Dr Russell collected more than 170 personal stories from relatives who visit an aged care home. Relatives described what was good about the aged care home, and what was not good. They also made suggestions about how to improve the quality of life of residents. These stories provide a rich source of experiences to inform policy.

“The report is unsettling to read in parts, but that is its value and significance”, says Dr Russell. “In a system where policy and practice is dominated by perspectives of providers and professional groups, it is unique to hear the experiences of people who regularly visit an aged care home. These personal stories have the power to influence decision makers.”

Some relatives described older people being happier in an aged care home than when they lived at home alone. They have company, regular meals and an opportunity to be engaged in different activities.

“The key to high quality care in an aged care home is competent caring staff,” says Dr Russell. “Problems occur when there is not enough staff.”

During the past decade there has been a decrease in registered and enrolled nurses working in aged care homes and an increase in personal care attendants.

“There is strong evidence of a correlation between registered nurses and standards of care”, says Dr Russell. “Registered nurses are trained to manage complex health conditions. Having registered nurses on duty not only improves clinical management but also prevent admissions to hospital. This is important for both the resident and the public purse”.

Relatives want the federal government to legislate staff-resident ratios and skill prerequisites in all aged care homes. “There is currently legislation in childcare centres but not aged care homes.”

Relatives claim the care of vulnerable older people should not be left in the hands of providers seeking to maximise profits. They believe effective regulation and increased transparency will help to prevent neglect in aged care homes. “We cannot simply rely on providers doing the right thing.”

This research demonstrates why the federal government must make systemic changes so the community can be reassured that all residents in all aged care homes receive an acceptable standard of care.

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