Dr Michael Annear, Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre
Social networks and social engagement have positive impacts on health, yet some research has found that residents in aged care facilities may feel isolated and lonely. This presentation reports on a research study that considers whether health students who undertake placements in residential aged care facilities offer unique contributions through social interaction that may benefit residents. Aged care facility placements are relatively infrequent compared to other healthcare settings, comprising only 3.5% of all healthcare students’ placement hours in Australia. The UTAS Wicking Teaching Aged Care Facilities Program, however, has been placing large numbers of medical, paramedic and nursing students into aged care facilities since 2011. This study used a mixed methods approach and focused on one of these facilities, which, in 2014, hosted 95 healthcare students on placements of up to four weeks duration. During their time at the facility, students regularly engaged with allocated residents and undertook inter-professional health assessments with two residents. Interviews were held with 28 residents, five family members and ten staff members during and after placements, with questions asked about resident quality of life, quality of care and interactions with students. Three key themes emerged from the data: (1) resident loneliness and isolation pervades the aged care environment, (2) students provide meaningful social interaction, and (3) students provide a platform for resident meaning making, adjustment, and empowerment. The findings suggest placements provide opportunities for interpersonal exchanges between health students and residents which are viewed as meaningful and have the potential to reduce loneliness and social isolation in older adults living in aged care.
Why the presentation/topic will be of interest to conference participants
The Wicking Teaching Aged Care Facilities Program involves four residential aged care facilities across Tasmania, as well as two on the mainland. It is a ground-breaking project which has increased the number of students on placement in these facilities by 1400% and introduced medical and paramedic students to aged care placements, while at the same time implementing a program of organisational improvement. The effects of the program are widespread, as can be seen by the impact of student placements on resident social isolation and quality of life. These findings suggest the importance of aged care facilities hosting a number of students on clinical placement or perhaps using other methods to combat the potential social isolation of residents within their facilities. This is relevant to clinical and organisational leaders and other members of the Tasmanian aged care workforce who are striving to meet 21st century healthcare demands associated with an ageing population.