A number of allied health professionals would have noted an increase in the number of older clients that are seeking their services or perhaps they would intentionally be focusing on working in aged care as it is a booming sector. Either way, there are a number of unique challenges faced by older clients, and as providers we need to be aware of the symptoms we need to look out for and specific strategies to use to support our clients to achieve clinical outcomes and improve their health status. But, where do we start?
One of the biggest fears faced by our aged clients is the fear of decline and loss of independence. For some it is the fear of being diagnosed with dementia while for others it is the fear of ceasing to drive and relying on others to get out and about. Sadly, there is still a lot of stigma associated with ageing and the common myths that dementia and depression are a normal part of getting older. These myths do not help older people seek treatment for changes in their emotional wellbeing or cognitive functioning. Older adults are least likely population to seek support for mental health. However, seeking treatment for changes in emotional wellbeing can improve clinical functioning across the lifespan. So, regardless of the age of our clients, depression for example, is treated the same way. Symptoms may be slightly different in older people as they are more likely to complain of physical symptoms of depression than about their feelings and thoughts.
One of the common barriers expressed by allied health professionals when working with older adults is the lack of confidence clients express in improving their health. Many of our elderly clients may feel that their functioning can only decline and their support needs increase. Many of those clients have faced significant changes in their health status, support network and independence. They may have difficultly adjusting to their life without a spouse, not working and living far away from their loved ones. These changes may have impact the confidence and self-esteem of our elderly clients and how they see themselves fit in our society.
Here are four practical strategies which can help our clients:
We can all get caught up on discussing the barriers and losses our clients have experienced over the years, as well as the skills or activities which they no longer participate in. However, try to switch that discussion around and show enthusiasm and interest in discussing what your client can do and activities which you can support them to achieve their goals. There are many skills and abilities that our clients still have and can use in their day to day lives. Focus on those. I remember a client who used to work as an art historian. She felt a great sense of loss after she had a fall and moved into a facility. Instead of discussing her fall over and over we focus on her art and within weeks she started to run art history classes!
Look for ways to boost connection and interaction – it is good for client mental health and their wellbeing. Isolation is a huge barrier for many older adults as they find it difficult to make friends and initiate conversations. Further, social connection can improve mobility, sense of purpose and meaning. Perhaps start off with small outings and community access which are realistic and achievable, rather than planning on big outings once in a blue moon. Once clients start connecting with others they can increase their sense of purpose and engagement.
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This is a big factor and often not explored by those who support the elderly. Try and explore why the client objected to your recommendation or an outing. There are many factors underpinned by “no” – it could be lack of understanding, isolation, fear, sensory impairment or financial barriers. By addressing the barriers associated with the “no” we can improve our problem solving skills and rapport with our clients. I remember a client who used to say no to everything and turns out his hearing was impaired and he did not hear what type of activities were on offer. Instead of constantly asking for a clarification he would just say no instead.
If you are concerned about the wellbeing of your client, perhaps this is something that needs to be explored more formally with their GP. Your client may have symptoms of depression and anxiety and if treated appropriately their wellbeing can be improved as well as their motivation to participate in activities. Seek permission from your client to speak to their GP and express your concerns as your client may not necessarily articulate those concerns to their GP. The sooner your client receives the appropriate treatment the more likely they are to improve.
“The Five Common Mistakes Aged Care Professionals Make When Emotionally Supporting the Elderly” Don’t miss out the up coming FREE webinar on 1 May. Register now to save your seat.
About the Author:
Dr Julie Bajic Smith (PhD) is a geropsychologist and she helps aged care professionals deliver emotional care to older adults so they can have better connections with their clients and feel more fulfilled in their roles. Julie is the creator of “Emotional Care in Late Life” a four module self-paced program which teaches aged care professionals practical skills in how to support elderly clients with mental health conditions on a day-to-day basis to boost engagement and improve the quality of service delivery. Julie believes that the starting point to improving engagement with older adults is by asking the right questions. You can download Effective Conversation Starters with Older Adults here and find out more about julie and her community at wisecare.com.au
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