As the year starts to draw to a close and we look back on what has been one of the most challenging in recent memory, it's important to reflect on what we've learnt.
The crises we have experienced in this country, from bushfires and storms to floods and a global pandemic, have brought out the best in people. It's heartening to see frontline health workers, aged care employees and older Australians accepting things for what they are and simply getting on with it. With that has come a greater appreciation for either the work they do or their vulnerable situation. This has helped me see resilience in action.
The American Psychological Association defines individual resilience as the "process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress". Whether we have all adapted well is open to debate as many of us have had to ride the peaks and troughs of trauma, tragedy and stress over the past year. At times we may have fared better than at others.
Resilience is not necessarily endless and it can waver as our mental and physical health are shaken by the persistent nature of some hardships.
Isolation can have a big impact on a person's wellbeing at any age and in any era - but it's particularly difficult for the older members of our community and those in residential aged care. The importance of managing the risks of a pandemic have magnified this impact. Since the start of the pandemic the challenge in aged care has been to balance the risk of infection with the risk of isolation for aged care centre residents and home care customers; and helping them keep busy and connected has never been more important.
We have all had to adjust to the new ways of connecting with family and friends when the physical connection is impossible. In our aged care centres this has meant keeping families connected through window visits, phone and video calls, and letter writing programs. Many of our residents have learned to use new technology to connect with their family and friends; a happy side benefit to the necessity created by COVID-19.
But the old habit of a knock on the door to see if our neighbours are okay, and reaching out with a phone call has not gone out of fashion. This was particularly prevalent after the bushfires on the NSW South Coast when people were checking in on neighbours (particularly older neighbours) and offering to lend a hand. You don't have to compromise social distancing rules, or any other COVID-safe practice to connect with, and assist an older person if they need it. In return you can learn from the wealth of knowledge and experience they have to offer.
Just as technology and innovation have played an important role in connecting all of us with our loved ones, it has also brought a new, convenient way of managing our health and I believe this will remain so going forward. We want to make sure older Australians can connect with their doctors remotely as appropriate for their healthcare needs, and telehealth is a safe way to do this. The increasing use of apps and platforms, like our own IRT Connect app can enable users to access important information and updates about their health, families, and can even include appointment schedules and activities.
This year we have all had to respond quickly to the pandemic crisis and its impact on older Australians. As a community we need to reflect on what we have learned in order to prevent history repeating itself, and continue helping older Australians live their optimal life. We can't stand still and must start making strong and positive changes to deliver on that. Rather than wait for the outcome of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety we must act now and examine the way we view aged care and get ready for what that future may be.
At IRT our customers and residents are telling us they want to remain independent for as long as possible, including those with dementia, and as a community we must listen. A good example of this in action is our new retirement village, Henry Brooks Estate at IRT Kanahooka, which encourages ageing in place through innovative design features and advanced technology - some elements of which have been accelerated by necessity through COVID-19.
We must also continue to collaborate with health districts, medical professionals and experts and start thinking of the 2020 infection control processes as the baseline to limit outbreaks like COVID-19, influenza and gastroenteritis. This year very few people contracted influenza - partly because of an increased rate of influenza vaccination; but also because we were all so cautious with hygiene and social distancing if we felt unwell. These are practices well worth continuing.
Many of us might like 2020 to just go away but I think the lessons learnt during the year have been really important - not just for aged care providers like IRT but for all of us - the value of community and looking out for each other has become more essential than ever before. As you're riding the peak of the resilience wave, reach out to someone who is perhaps caught in the trough, and together you can ride that wave through to what is hopefully a better year in 2021.
Patrick Reid is IRT CEO