MACH welcomes the recent appointment of Dr. Anita Goh, from the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) and The University of Melbourne; and Dr. Samantha Clune, from the Australian Institute of Primary Care and Ageing (AIPCA), La Trobe University, as the new chair and deputy-chair of the MACH Care of the Ageing, Early-Mid Career research group.

Both researchers are passionate about ageing and aged care research, as well as helping the next generation navigate through a challenging research landscape.

Supporting home care workers through dementia training

Dr. Goh, a clinician researcher and neuropsychologist, has always been passionate “about research being useful.” This is demonstrated by her involvement with a recent National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded study, which looks at dementia training for home care workers. The ageing in place policy, aims for older adults to remain living in their own home, for as long as possible. For this to occur, home care workers are often employed to assist people in their home with activities of daily living, such as cooking, cleaning and hygiene needs.

Dr. Goh and colleagues identified a skills gap for home care workers. Many home care workers have very limited training in how to care for someone living with dementia, and wanted more knowledge. Specifically, home care workers wanted to know how to cope with the challenges and benefits of working with someone with a progressive illness. As a result the researchers wanted to provide dementia specific training for home care workers.  To maximise the outcomes of this research, people living with dementia and their family were consulted. These consumers told researchers that ‘they wish home care workers knew a bit more about our condition’. Alongside consumer input, Dr. Goh and colleagues also consulted with industry partners. This resulted in the first co-designed training program for home care workers on dementia.

The program is now being tested and implemented in a randomized controlled trial (RCT), across 3 states in Australia, with 6 service providers. After this trial, the team hopes to be able to offer the dementia specific training to homecare workers and the aged care industry for free. With the intention that the training program is used in the real-world and can be of maximum benefit to Australians impacted by dementia.

Dr. Goh reflects, “I really embraced the challenge of bringing together multiple stake holders, opinions and thoughts in a collaborative way, it was fun. It also had its challenges, but it was so worth it. We now have a training program designed by the actual people who will use it and who will benefit from it. Which means it is likely to make more of a difference in people’s quality of life and care.”

Aged care privatization

Dr Samantha Clune, a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Primary Care & Ageing, is also passionate about ageing research. She enjoys the complexity of ageing research and is able to apply her nursing skills, alongside her sociology and policy expertise to the task. She is passionate in assisting vulnerable populations to achieve enhanced health outcomes, as demonstrated in recent research. The research considers vulnerable groups in the context of ageing and aged care and considers the impact of privatisation of many aged care facilities.

Dr. Clune explains a complex dynamic occurs when aged care facilities are constructed as a person’s home, where in fact they are institutions. Aged care facilities are clinical venues and staff are trained to work there. Aged care facilities also have reporting requirements and standards that are required to be met. Where a person may previously have been ‘in charge’ of their own home, when they move to a residential aged care facility this is no longer the case. Unfortunately many residents cannot do the things they want to because they are within an institution.

As a society we supposedly empower the individual living in residential aged care. However they also must live within the confines of the institution. Dr. Clune recognises it is complicated, and therefore believes it is necessary “to engage policy and government to change the understanding of residential aged care.”

Leading the next generation of ageing and aged care researchers

Both Dr. Goh and Dr. Clune are excited about the chance to be involved with the next generation of ageing researchers.

“The opportunity to learn from my colleagues and to learn across disciplines is something I’m very excited about,” Dr. Clune explains.

Dr. Goh is passionate about supporting the needs of early to mid-career researchers. She explains that as a mid-career researcher herself, she wants to be able to support and connect with her peers. “It’s really important that we support and nurture the future leaders in ageing, and make ageing research an attractive and exciting career choice. My vision for the Network includes connecting lots of diverse people (including older people and consumers so our work is meaningful and inclusive), and building the skills and providing opportunities to the Network members for them to flourish in their careers.”

As for any advice?

Dr. Clune suggests it is important to think how your skills can contribute when joining new groups, beyond just your research focus. For example, you might be able to contribute methodologically, or from a clinical perspective. Therefore it is worth taking a minute to understand how your research and style, can contribute to the bigger picture in the context of ageing.

Dr. Goh believes that increasing visibility of ageing and aged care research is very important and notes that “the key skills of science communication are often not taught in degrees”. Being able to share your research to a broader audience enables you to reach consumers and end-users, as well as other researchers. Dr Goh feels, “ageing research is very important however it doesn’t always have a high profile –we need to try and share our research as widely as possible.”

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What our consumers say

“I lived through my partner’s decline as he succumbed to dementia. He was cared for at home until I could no longer manage. The carers who supported us during this period were well meaning but
did not understand dementia, drawing on their own lived experiences to cope.

It is wonderful to see Dr Goh focusing on Dementia training for home care workers.”

Judy McCahon Consumer representative, MACH Care of the Ageing committee.

“Dr Goh’s work on Dementia training is something that is greatly needed with the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety showing more elderly wish to be cared for in their home. This type of training would allow for that to possibly happen with a little ease for the home care workers and the family.

I agree with Dr Clune an aged care home should be handled more like a clinical institution; I believe that COVID has shown several short comings in that area. I also believe that there should be more importance on Advance care directive which would allow for a simpler decision-making process.”

Barry Baulch, Consumer representative, MACH Care of the Ageing committee.