About Aged Care Volunteering Australia Inc
Because of Australia’s aging population, it is expected that by 2050 that an additional million Australians will be accessing aged care services. Both the public and the private sector are struggling to keep up with increasing demand, and given that aged care is a heavily publicly subsided sector much of the increased burden will be taken on by the tax-payer. Introducing volunteer programs and enhancing existing programs at aged care homes is a low-cost model to achieve the dual objectives of improving the experience of residents of nursing homes and increasing capacity, with volunteers able to share some of the load of ‘non-professional’ aspects of providing care.
We believe there is a large spectrum of members of the Australian community who are eager to volunteer at a local home, often because they have an elderly parent or grandparent, but also because they are looking to take up an activity in their spare time that will give them a sense of community and purpose. As such, there exists a tremendous and largely untapped resource for improving the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Australians in aged care.
ADOPTING A PERSON-CENTRED APPROACH
The key way which person-centered volunteering can assist those in aged care is by addressing the issues of loneliness and social isolation that several studies have identified as the most significant issue for both the wellbeing and health of residents of aged care. Person-centered volunteering incorporates respect for individuality, knowledge of each resident's past history, a focus on the residents' abilities, supporting choice and agency, enhancing communication, valuing attachments and maintaining social environments. In addition to person-centered volunteering, trained and correctly vetted volunteers can also add value to home life by running activities and social events, increasing sociability with and amongst residents.
It is our view that once the facilities and structures for a volunteering program exist, finding volunteers is easy - and can be as simple as putting up notices in local community centers and houses of worship. However, too many homes, particularly new homes run by large corporate entities, remain unwilling to establish and invest in volunteering programs because they are unaware of the immense benefits that both they and their residents could reap. Even new and otherwise very impressive facilities are often not even built with any activity rooms where activities run by volunteers (such as art or music therapy) could be run.
ADVOCATING FOR RESEARCH
As part of our overarching aim of expanding and enhancing volunteering programs, our first aim as an organisation is to lobby government and research institutions to conduct a comprehensive study into the benefits of volunteering, and to facilitate this study by connecting the researchers to aged care homes. We believe such a study could result in wholescale and positive change to the aged care industry by conclusively demonstrating the ways in which successful programs improve outcomes for residents, paid workers and management. An extension of such research could include researching the ways in which existing volunteering programs can be enhanced so that they can better achieve the outcomes they set out to fulfill.
INVESTMENT IN TRAINING
A key shortfall in existing programs at aged care homes is a lack of investment in training volunteers. There are many passionate volunteers who are willing to donate generously of their time, but have been restricted by a lack of skills and resources. It is our view that with just a little more thought and planning, and a relatively small financial investment, homes could greatly increase the benefit they receive from their volunteers by providing greater support and training programs. Research into the efficacy of different volunteering models could thus benefit the aged care community by encouraging homes to innovate in the way they use their volunteers.
The early response to our reach-outs to academics and key stakeholders in the aged care community has been very positive and we are confident that our goal of instigating a pilot study is within reach. As part of our initial strategy we have also sent a detailed submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Disability encouraging them to include an examination of the potential benefits of expanding and enhancing volunteer programs as part of their report. Both the feedback from the community and the Royal Commission submission are available to read on this site.