Life Wellbeing Professor: risky activity boosts lives of elderly

Professor: risky activity boosts lives of elderly

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A Melbourne professor is pushing a new approach to aged care, hoping to spark a discussion about how simple, yet risky activities can enrich the lives of those in their senior years.

An analysis is underway into nursing home deaths using data from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS), based in Melbourne, with the element of risk a major part of the project.

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Researchers have embarked on a two-year study to look at all nursing home deaths reported to state and territory coroners since 2000.

The analysis will examine approximately 6,000 nursing home deaths over a 14-year period.

It needs to be known older people, we are part of the society. We are not ready to die.

Jack Wardope, Starrett Lodge nursing home resident

Researchers not only want to know more about how deaths could be prevented, but also hope for answers on how many fatalities involved residents taking a risk — and whether that risk could have been better managed.

Monash University aged care expert Professor Joseph Ibrahim believed it was the first study of its kind in Australia — perhaps the world.

Also a Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine specialist, Professor Ibrahim also manages patients at an aged care ward in Ballarat.

Professor Ibrahim’s interactions with residents have helped shape his thinking about the role risk plays to add enjoyment to the lives of the elderly in aged care facilities.

He has also launched a website to discuss ageing issues using animated films, with topics such as “To Resuscitate Or Not?” and “Driving with Dementia”.

Introducing ‘Dignity of Risk’ to improve elderly lives

“What makes us so uncomfortable when someone wants to take a risk with their life?” Professor Ibrahim asked.

He hoped there could be a change in thinking when it comes to aged care, a notion he called the Dignity of Risk.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim
Professor Joseph Ibrahim believes elderly people should have the right to do what they like in their senior years.

Professor Ibrahim said an example of Dignity of Risk was a nursing home resident who preferred to walk on their own every evening to get an ice cream from a nearby store.

The routine walk posed a risk — by far the greatest cause of death of nursing home residents is falls — but the simple act of going for a walk also greatly enriched the life of the resident.

Some nursing homes are already embracing the shift in thinking and the concept of Dignity of Risk.

At Starrett Lodge on the New South Wales Central Coast, staff have introduced what they call resident-centred care.

It has been a change from when multiple interests — families, doctors, and nursing homes themselves — made minimising risk the top priority for residents.

“Over the years we have learned possibly we have restricted people’s lives somewhat,” Linda Wollard with lodge operator Uniting said.

“It really comes down to remembering that person is still a person, they are just older. And we need to be creative in the way that we manage those risks.”