A guiding hand - The importance of spiritual and pastoral care for seniors

Spirituality has been defined as giving meaning and value to the lives people live. It is the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul and a connection to the divine or transcendent.

Research suggests that as part of holistic care of people living in aged care, their spiritual health and wellbeing needs to be acknowledged and supported.

We are a founding member of Meaningful Ageing Australia (formerly Pastoral and Spiritual Care of Older People), the national peak body for spiritual care in ageing - they define spirituality as:

“Spirituality is integral to, but not confined by, religion and faith. It 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.…Spirituality is all about meaning, purpose and connectedness.” meaningfulageing.org.au

Taking care of an older person’s spirituality requires more than religious instruction. It is about their connection—to themselves, others, the world and to the something bigger. Meaningful Ageing Australia’s mission is to ensure that all older Australian’s have access to high quality pastoral and spiritual care. They support organisations and groups to respond to the pastoral and spiritual needs of older people, significant others and carers, while advocating for this care to be included in all care settings.

We have implemented a number of programs and initiatives that promote the spiritual health and wellbeing of individuals in our aged care services. These include spiritual care at end of life, special dementia specific church services and training for staff and volunteers to promote spiritual wellbeing in residents.

Spiritual care at the end of life

In 2015, Churches of Christ Care implemented ‘A Palliative Approach’, using evidence-based tools to inform and facilitate the best way to deliver individualised, holistic and quality care to those at end of life.
Julie Baker, Clinical Practice Lead – Palliative Care, said that palliative care aims to improve client quality of life as they near the end, and this includes their spiritual wellbeing.

“Taking a palliative approach means not shying away from people as they contemplate the big questions at the end of life: What has my life meant? Have I made a difference? And what happens next?” Julie said.

“We view spiritual care as being as important as physical care, and even more so at the end of life. Working as a team, our nurses and chaplains along with family members, are able to be attentive and listen to people as they near the end of life, offering them comfort and compassion,” she said. “By doing this, we foster a sense of openness and spiritual wellbeing for those in our care, which is part of offering people dignity at the end of life.”

Dementia specific church service

“Empirical evidence suggests that older people who attend church receive more spiritual and emotional support compared with those who do not attend. The more they feel supported, the more closely they are connected to God and older people who are more connected to God are generally more optimistic and enjoy better health,” Wayne Crouch, Seniors Chaplain, said.

Pastoral care is a cornerstone of our seniors and supported living services, and as such we were delighted to receive the 2015 Pastoral and Spiritual Care of Older People Annual Quality in Pastoral and Spiritual Practice Award.

This was awarded to our innovative pilot dementia church service initiative, developed at our Moonah Park Aged Care Service.

Since 2014, 42 per cent of residents living with dementia within our south east Queensland aged care services have attended weekly church services.

Dementia has an impact on a person’s ability to connect with God in the way they have in the past. Through music, singing, scripture and prayers, individuals are able to reignite their connection with God.
Pastoral and spiritual care training

A new pastoral and spiritual care training program aims to equip staff and volunteers in aged care services to be able to assess an individual’s spiritual health and provide avenues to support their spiritual care and wellbeing.

Developed by Meaningful Ageing Australia, and contributed to by Churches of Christ in Queensland’s Senior’s Chaplaincy Team Leader Peter McRoberts, the ConnecTo program will be delivered to staff and volunteers in our residential aged care services.

The training includes spiritual orientation, followed by the ConnecTo program, which is a tool used for assessing people’s spiritual needs right from admission.
It explores what spirituality is and signs of someone who is in spiritual distress.

According to the program, spiritual distress is defined as the ‘impaired ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose in life through connectedness with self, others, art, music, literature, nature, as well as a power greater than oneself. Spiritual distress can impact on someone’s belief system, which provides strength, hope and meaning to life.

The pilot program has recently finished, and it will be rolled out across services shortly following the review of feedback.

Read more stories like this in the latest edition of Networking.

Posted March 2, 2017 in Networking blog