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Residents take the bucket list challenge

A project that helps aged-care residents check things off their bucket list has been honoured by the government.

UnitingCare Ageing’s Starrett Lodge was given a Better Practice Award by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency for the program.

Colin McDonnell, care services manager at Starrett Lodge, says many residents at the facility believe in participating rather than just receiving care. “We have a whole group of residents who cook, bake, make things and raise money to achieve their own bucket list goals,” he says.

These residents raise funds and staff help bring their wishes to fruition. “They make decisions and then we just help facilitate it [and] work out how best we can achieve it,” McDonnell says. “We do the easy part.

“Probably the biggest thing about it is their own participation and then sharing the joy of someone else achieving a goal that they’ve never been able to achieve, particularly in this stage of their life.”

The project helps with depression and gives residents self-esteem and a purpose, McDonnell adds. “It gives [residents the chance] to be still part of a community. To be able to share and achieve things is important in anyone’s life,” he says.

On top of this, some residents take on a mentor role, as more capable individuals are buddied up with those who are more cognitively impaired.

Names are drawn out of a hat to see whose turn is next. Lucky residents have had the chance to go on a helicopter ride, sky dive, take a limousine to dinner and drinks and visit Hunter Valley’s vineyards.

Other individuals had more low-key wishes. One resident met family members – who lived afar – at Hornsby RSL Club, whilst another asked for a dinner with her son.

Family members are often involved, and are frequently encouraged to come along for their loved one’s adventure – even if it’s just to watch them drop out of a plane.

A typical bucket list item costs about $300, which takes roughly three months to raise. To gather funds, residents have posed for a calendar and even co-written a book about their life stories. Starrett Lodge also collaborates with companies to get prices down. “It becomes a really good, community-involved thing. It’s a win-win for everybody,” McDonnell says.

A surf lifesaving club provided a beach wheelchair for one patient who suffered a stroke and could no longer walk but wanted to visit the beach. “If you can’t walk, putting your feet in the sand and getting on the beach is important, particularly if that’s what you loved all your life and then you had a stroke,” McDonnell says.

Other facilities are also running bucket list programs. Staff at Holy Family Services pay particular attention to the opportunities residents would like to have in their lives.

“It is just as important to support our seniors in doing these things as it is for anyone else. Just because someone is in aged care doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be helped [so they can] continue pursuing their favourite interests and hobbies,” John Walczak, recreation officer at Holy Family Services says. “When a resident enters Holy Family Services, we ask them to tell us their interests and hobbies as a part of their care plan and then … endeavour to cater to their interests. Our staff also engage in both one-on-one and group discussion with residents to decide what activities would be fun and enjoyable.”

One Holy Family resident who was still active and loved dancing wanted to celebrate her 100th birthday with a waltz. The lifestyle and leisure co-ordinator organised for her to waltz at her party in front of staff and residents whilst one of her favourite songs played.

Walczak says the reaction amongst residents is always positive when they are helped to do what they would love to do. By supporting seniors as they pursue new interests and revisit favourite activities, he says, the team are helping to keep the residents happy and healthy.

“The people who are now able to keep doing their favourite interests and hobbies are of course going to be happier, but there is also the added benefit of introducing other residents to new activities,” he says.

He adds it gives staff a sense of joy to see and hear the laughter amongst the residents. “It is especially heart-warming to see our residents have such a good time doing what they love and seeing the changes that this positivity can inspire.”

Staff members at Embracia on the Avenue have also been working to help residents achieve their goals. The aged-care home’s lifestyle coordinator nominated one resident to get the ‘Make a wish come true for someone’ prize.

The resident, who has now passed, served in the Royal Air Force and trained as a pilot, but had to let flying go, as it can be expensive. The lifestyle co-ordinator knew this and so thought of him for the Wish List. As a result, he was able to enjoy a pleasure flight on a Tiger Moth.

Flying in an open cockpit, feeling the slipstream on his face, seeing the runway approaching and feeling the weight of the plane when landing made the experience special.

The event evoked memories for another Embracia resident, who found out about the flight, which stimulated recall of his first ever flight in a Tiger Moth. His training was prematurely terminated as the end of WWII approached.

McDonnell says other residents typically benefit by seeing one of their friends or neighbours living out a dream. “They come back and then they tell everybody about it, so everyone else shares in the joy of achieving and helping them achieve the bucket list.”

Staff typically record the events through photos or video and show them to the other residents.

McDonnell encourages other facilities to start their own bucket list programs. “Just do it,” he says. “Have the urge and the leadership and the passion to allow residents to have a say in what they want to do.”

He also says providers should encourage residents to participate. “It’s about leading focus groups … and then getting them to talk about what they want to do and how they can do it.”

“It doesn’t cost anything because if you allow people to do things themselves, they raise the money,” he says.

Walczak suggests organisations simply speak to the residents. “Most requests are very achievable and lots of residents can benefit from them,” he says.

He explains that request from residents have the full support of management and staff but rigorous risk assessments are completed for new activities to ensure that residents are safe. He says the team’s emphasis will always be on providing the best possible experience.

When McDonnell explains the benefits of a bucket list program, he draws upon philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. “It’s not the how, the how happens every day,” he explains. “It’s the why: Why should I get out of bed? What have I got to look forward to? And that’s the meaning of life.”

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