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With one in three older Australians born in a non-English speaking country, how equipped are our nursing homes in tailoring to the specific cultural needs of residents with dementia who may have reverted back to their mother tongue?
What if we can re-imagine an aged care system that better meets our human and cultural needs?
Shocking stories heard in the Aged Care Royal Commission highlight the inadequacy of conventional aged care facilities in providing safe and quality care for our frail elderly.
It still hurts whenever Brisbane resident Gloria Gough recalls what her 96 year-old mother Suzanne Paruit-Chauvin endured after going through four nursing homes for respite care.
“With urines leaking, gone through the pad, gone through the clothes, gone through the two towels that were on the back of the wheel chair, and dripping from beneath the chair, and it wasn’t until I arrived at 8 o’clock in the evening to see her that she’d get a change.”
This was just one of the nursing homes Paruit-Chauvin briefly stayed at when her exhausted daughter desperately needed a break.
Sydney University aged care and dementia expert Associate Professor Lee-Fay Low says Australia is a long way from providing a satisfactory level of aged care as underscored in the thousands of complaints received by the aged care royal commission.
“We know that providing safe and quality care is a big challenge. I think that these challenges are because older people entering into both community and residential care are actually frailer and more disabled than they were in the past and that we really have workforce and budgetary challenges to deliver good care.”
A common complaint by the providers is the lack of government funding.
With an average hourly pay between $20 to $25 dollars, aged care workers are struggling to meet the complex needs of nursing home residents.
Gloria Gough’s mother Paruit-Chauvin, once a sought-after singer in Mauritius, lost her ability to walk at another respite care facility after a short stay.
“Still, she was able to walk, she still had good muscle tone in her legs, and after the four week break, which I needed, she couldn’t walk anymore. She was being fed in her bed. She rarely got to go the dining room and when I asked them the answer was always, ‘sorry we’re understaffed.’ ”
Over half of aged care residents in Australian government-funded facilities live with dementia.
However, 70 per cent of our aged care workers had no training around dementia.
It’s really sad. You don’t really learn all this until your mother or your father needs aged care.”
Poor quality care at understaffed facilities is a familiar story for many nursing home residents and their families.
When aged care veteran Natasha Chadwick thought about her own mother’s future, she decided to design a facility like no other.
What she came up with was a community-focused Microtown where residents and neighbours in the area mingle together.
“When I stopped and actually thought about what if it was mum that needed care? What if mum got dementia? What would I do then? And it was pretty confronting after spending so long in an industry to realise that actually the way that we do aged care in Australia is not what it needs to be.”
Located in the suburb of Bellmere in Queensland’s Caboolture, the Microtown which New Direction Care’s CEO Natasha Chadwick envisaged and built has 17 houses across six streets.
It has a hair salon, a wellness centre, a cafe, a grocery shop and a cinema, which locals can also use.
After four years of caring for Paruit-Chauvin full-time, Gough decided to send her beloved mother to the Microtown for a break in February and have since switched to full-time care.
"Mum went into respite for a few weeks and I just observed. I just watched how mum was. I watched how she coped and I watched how I coped, and for the first time, I was able to just relax a little.”
It’s approaching lunch time and Gloria has just driven an hour and a half from Brisbane to check on Paruit-Chauvin with a friend.
They speak in Mauritian Creole as the house companion cooks salmon in coconut sauce and rice.
Unlike some nursing homes with a daily food budget of as little as $6 dollars a day for each resident, the seven housemates budget and meal-plan together with the meals prepared in front of them.
Due to dementia, Paruit-Chauvin had forgotten how to speak English.
Gough was initially concerned about not having someone who could communicate with her mother in French.
“It just occurred to me that it doesn’t matter that if someone is caring for her can speak her language. It doesn’t matter because when someone has got dementia, the most important thing for them is knowing that they are not alone and someone can just hold their hands and make them feel safe.”
72-year-old Microtown resident Jan Segger likes to play the piano every afternoon at the Music room next to the cafe.
“I started piano when I was five and then of course I’d finished by the time I was 13 so I’m not doing too bad from 13 to 72.”
At the hair salon, a local mother is getting her hair done while her daughter looks after the baby.
It’s a different atmosphere to what Gough was used to in other aged care facilities.
“Whenever I go there, I see the staff interact with the residents. They’re playful with them. They’re joking with them. They stick with them and have a cup of tea with them. They’re not rushed to their feet.”
Perhaps this is due to the fact that a large percentage of the Microtown residents are relatively young and healthy with early onset dementia.
Their ages range from fifties through to a hundred.
Natasha Chadwick attributes Microtown’s relaxed atmosphere to the community environment residents live in and a values-based recruitment approach.
“We hire slow. We hire on the basis of values. Our house companions are fully trained once they’ve come on board with us. We don’t require them to have a Certificate 3 if you like. We train them into their role. From that respect, they‘ve got the right values. They want to be here. They want that relationship with residents, and they want to do the best things by those people that they’re caring for."
Our next “Re-imagining aged care in Australia” episode will look at innovative aged care models for Australia’s multicultural ageing population.