When the time comes to move into an aged care residence, there are many things to consider. Location, amenities, are reputation are some of the first things you might want to know about. But what about your spiritual needs?
Meaningful Ageing Australia (Meaningful Ageing) is the Australian national peak body for spiritual care and ageing and is made up of member organisations. According to Meaningful Ageing, spirituality is about what gives us a purpose to our lives. It is about our sources of meaning and hope, which in turn is intimately related to our connectedness to ourselves, to others and to the world.
Ilsa Hampton has been the CEO of Meaningful Ageing Australia for four years.
“We want to ensure that older people’s spiritual needs are being met, and we provide practical resources for providers, to show them how they can do that,” says Ilsa.
Meaningful Ageing was first formed in 2013, the idea for the organisation coming about through engaging with those who worked with older people and saw the benefit of a support resource for spirituality. Meaningful Ageing hit their stride in the last few years, and whilst they are still relatively small, in the last four years, they have gone from 26 members to 111. And they are looking forward to continuing to grow.
Meaningful Ageing’s See Me. Know Me. campaign, which commenced in February 2019, was a catalyst for the organisation. With assistance from Meaningful Ageing members, including VMCH, and financial support from the Commonwealth government, the campaign started as a way of educating older people about how spirituality fits into their lives, and how to look for an aged care provider who will give the right support.
It also brought about some outstanding outcomes.
“Some of the things we’ve seen happen as a result of the campaign is, as people engage with the See Me. Know Me. materials, they are surprised, relieved and enlightened to have an opportunity to reflect in a deeper way about themselves and their lives and to share that with others,” says Ilsa.
“Our initial goal was to help people find service providers that will value them as a whole person and to build spiritual literacy and empower older people.
“What we then uncovered was this real gap in older people’s lives around feeling well regarded, well connected and well understood. Even by their own families and communities. In life right now, some older people are saying “my family don’t even know what I am interested in, or some of my big life stories.”
“We published additional material to equip people to have those interesting and deeper conversations, hopefully in a fun way, but adding something to their lives and relationships.”
Meaningful Ageing also published a list of Top 10 Questions for Aged Care, to help older people get past the shiny foyers, websites and promises from providers. The aim was to build spiritual literacy and empower older people.
Ilsa says these questions aren’t necessarily about providers having the perfect answer, but how they respond.
“Do they try to fob you off, are they uncomfortable, or do they actually engage? If they don’t have the answer that’s ok, they can consider your questions and get back to you. You need to look, listen and get a feel of the quality of the relationships between the staff and older people.
“Can you see staff engaging with people as a whole person, do they looking them in the eye, do they walk alongside them? Are people actively engaged and are their activities meaningful to each person?”
Ilsa says her vision for the future is that every engagement a person has with a service is one that leaves them walking away feeling like they were profoundly understood.
“It is important for our spirituality as we age that we have a chance to reflect, to have a sense of legacy, and to be seen as a whole person. If these needs are met, the inner self will then become stronger, even as we become physically weaker.
“I would just love for every person to have that deep feeling of being valued, nurtured and supported, at every touchpoint.”