Spirituality connections and caring for older people

  • Two male seniors sitting on a garden bench

Photo: Meaningful Ageing Australia

Spirituality is about our sources of hope and strength: about meaning, purpose and connectedness with self, others, creativity, nature and something bigger. And despite its links and similarities with religion, they are not the same thing.

Spirituality is bigger than religion, and while everyone has spirituality, not everyone has a religion. People don’t have to be ‘religious’ to think about the deeper things that matter to them, especially as they age, or are reaching the end of their lives.

Older Australians have different backgrounds and experiences that have formed their spirituality, the things that matter most their identity – to who they are and who they want to be. Where they live, their land, what has surrounded them physically throughout their life and work, will have contributed to their spirituality.

By paying attention to our spiritualty - to our sources of hope, to what brings us meaning and a sense of purpose, to our important connections – and looking after that part of our lives we build our resilience for what life throws at us. It means that when our identity is challenged and when we experience life’s inevitable losses, like loss of job, loved one, homeland, house, or physical ability; or natural disasters such as floods, drought or bushfire we are not left utterly flattened.

These experiences bring challenges but if we take care of our spirituality, we are in touch with our deeper sources of hope, with who we are in a bigger sense – with what matters most. Spirituality creates and reinforces the sense that we are part of something bigger. We are not defined just by that one key thing we have always ‘done’.

This has important ramifications for aged care and health care: research is telling us that by paying attention to spiritualty, quality of life is improved. There are people who will do better mentally, emotionally and physically if they can say:

I have a reason for living.
My life has been productive.
I feel a sense of purpose.
I feel a sense of harmony.
I find strength in my spiritual beliefs.
I know that whatever happens with my illness, I will be ok.

Our systems of care should be orientated around making sure these needs are attended to.

Meaning, purpose and connectedness is fundamental to all of us, and to leave it out of your care system is like leaving out safety and clinical care.

Responding to this need, Meaningful Ageing has developed the ConnecTo tool to equip those who are working with older people to have those deeper conversations with them, to find out what is most important to them and to make sure it is part of their care.

It has been trialled successfully with four organisations (including in regional and rural aged care), showing that their activities, pastoral care, and assessment staff now have new understandings of the broad concepts of spirituality and spiritual care.

Staff and skilled volunteers in rural areas could use ConnecTo as a gentle starting point to understand what is most important to the person in their care. It could then help inform them about what to focus on when they are engaging with the older person and planning supports that match what is most needed. Once they are comfortable with the ConnecTo tool, they could then use it to tune in to what is important in their daily interactions with older people.

ConnecTo is available free to Meaningful Ageing Australia members and for purchase through Meaningful Ageing Australia’s website: www.meaningfulageing.org.au

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