What’s in a name?

Uniting Aged Care has officially become Uniting AgeWell.

Launched on 1 October, the name change will better reflect the philosophy of the organisation, which is to view the ageing process as just another of life’s stages. This paradigm shift is in stark contrast to attitudes of the past decades, where ageing was often viewed as a decline into physical and mental disability, and the elderly were considered a ‘burden’ on society.

Sharon Donovan is the executive director of Uniting AgeWell. She explained that while the name change reflects an organisational shift in thinking, many of the changes have already taken place at various sites and through projects. Ms Donovan said this had been an intentional process. Throughout the past few years staff members have been asked to consider ways they could improve the experience for clients and residents.

“Some of those activities will be a day-to-day thing that’s happening at the local level,” Ms Donovan said. “Where we can see the idea has worked, we will adopt it throughout the organisation.”

As Ms Donovan explained, even the smallest changes in attitude can make a big difference to a person’s experience. The dining experience at Strathaven in Hobart is one example of this change.

“The risk when you have large buildings is that a dining room can look a bit like a Coles cafeteria,” Ms Donovan said.

“Historically, meal times were organised around set times. Not only has Strathaven created a restaurant feel to the dining area, they have made decisions such as the nursing staff not giving out medication at mealtimes. A meal should be something that gives you pleasure in your day. They already had really good food, it was about creating a better environment.”

Another change in thinking that has been adopted at several Uniting AgeWell locations has enabled residents to schedule their day around their own needs.

“Staff will say to a particular client ‘Would you like to have a shower today’ rather than ‘I’m coming to do your shower’,” Ms Donovan said.

“It’s a big culture shift for a job that’s very much been task driven every day. So there are still tasks to be done but it’s turning it around to the individual client.”

“Noble Park and Manor Lakes had done similar things focussing on people with dementia. Studies have shown that people’s behaviour is different during the day if they can wake up at a time that suits them and they can nibble during the day. There is quite good evidence that talks about the impact of this both physically and emotionally.

“The other idea is that people can wake up when they feel like waking up and they can have breakfast when they want within a time frame – similar to what you would do if you were staying in a hotel.

“So if someone wakes up at five o’clock and they like to get up and have a shower and have breakfast they can, and if someone wakes up at 10 o’clock and they go and have breakfast and don’t have a shower until the afternoon that’s okay too.

“This is happening in a few different places and is something we would like to see everywhere.

“That’s a really good example of how different the organisation will be if people can have choice and individual needs and preferences and they feel good during the day which means it’s an age well organisation. That’s the thinking behind it.”

In launching the organisation under a new name, Uniting AgeWell is responding to a social change that is as inevitable as it is dramatic.
Perhaps the most noticeable social change in the past 20 years in Australia is that the generation colloquially known as the ‘baby boomers’ (born post WWII) have begun to enter old age.

According to the 2011 Census, there were three million people aged 65 years and older resident in Australia. Over half of this population were aged 65–74 years.

This is the generation that has always questioned social assumptions about the way it should behave. It is the generation that challenged thinking around issues such as war, music, sexuality, art, religion and women. So it is hardly surprising that, as they enter the third stage of their life, the baby boomers are demanding change.

According to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Who are Australia’s Older People, an ageing population has implications in a wide range of areas. These include health, housing, income security, residential services and opportunities for social, cultural and economic participation.

Ms Donovan feels that the changes incorporated in the Uniting AgeWell philosophy acknowledge the change in expectations of those receiving services and care.

“My parents’ generation would never question their doctor but we do, so over the next 20 years people will continue to question the way services are provided and re-define it in their terms,” Ms Donovan said.

“The reason for the rebranding and rethinking is a shift and a decision our board made as to what we offer and focus on – a different way of providing services.”

Part of the process is to encourage those within the organisation to embrace the challenge of ensuring the ageing process is as positive as possible. Ms Donovan said it also means acknowledging the term ‘wellness’ will mean different things to different people.

“I talk about the wholeness approach rather than ‘I’m well enough to run around the block and I feel fine’. And that’s sometimes difficult to interpret across an organisation that deals with many people that are very fragile or have severe dementia,” Ms Donovan said.

“An interesting challenge is how we interpret wellness so it’s meaningful for all parts of the organisation. The message for this is for our own staff and the broader community around creating the atmosphere and environment. So what wellness means for you can be supported so you can choose to do things that give you joy and pleasure in moments of your life. We need to support people to enjoy these pleasurable moments particularly when they are frail or have cognitive impairment. This is our challenge.

“It’s about creating an environment of wellness, wholeness and times of joy or pleasure or meaning as people get older.”

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