Aged care staff experiences following resident/client death
A blog post written by Dr. Anna Lane
Aged care staff experiences following resident/client death.
Dr Anna Lane, Research Associate, Flinders University
“Residential aged care is the most common place of death for people aged 85 and over (50%), followed by hospital (40%)”1. This statistic reflects the experiences of Australia’s population with death and dying. For many it might be an older family member who dies of coronary heart disease or dementia, for others it might follow a fall. Some will die at home (this includes residential aged care) others will be transferred to a hospital where they die a few days later. Despite advanced age and in many cases chronic illness, for family members the death is often unexpected and shocking.
When a close family member dies or suffers, it’s natural to feel emotional and to experience a sense of loss and grief. There are some great support sources available for families.2 But, what about aged care staff and their responses to death and dying of residents? Staff in residential aged care facilities interact daily with residents, taking care of them, chatting with them, listening to their personal stories, and learning their preferences and vulnerabilities. At some point affection and friendship might form. Do staff also feel emotional pain and experience grief?
We know little about the experiences of aged care staff in Australia following the death of a resident/client for whom they have personally cared. It may be that regular exposure to death and dying is a source of job stress, and a contributing factor to compassion fatigue and burnout. If this is the case, then they need to be supported through this experience. Evidence suggests that empathetic supervisors and co-workers with good listening skills are impactful sources of support. Stigma that surrounds the expression of emotion among care staff is viewed as a problem. Also, there is perceived lack of suitable support structures and informational resources available in some workplaces.3-6
At RePaDD, Professor Jennifer Tieman and I are conducting a study on this very topic. We want to learn more about the emotional and behavioural responses of aged care staff, the strategies they use to cope and recover when someone they care about dies, and the strategies they use to protect and maintain wellbeing. We hope the research will help in raising awareness about the impact of death and dying on aged care staff and in developing targeted resources that support aged care workers in caring for themselves and others in their workplace.
If you work in the South Australian aged care sector and have experienced the death of a resident/client in the past 12 months, then we invite you to participate in a 30 min online survey. The project has been approved by the Flinders University’s Human Research Ethics committee (No.4998).
Want to access the survey? https://qualtrics.flinders.edu.au/jfe/form/SV_eaC1fcCPeRpbNYO
- AIHW. (2021). Interfaces between the aged care and health systems in Australia—where do older Australians die?https://www.gen-agedcaredata.gov.au/www_aihwgen/media/2021-Interfaces-reports/Interfaces-between-the-aged-care-and-health-systems-in-Australia-where-do-older-Australians-die.pdf
- RePaDD. (2021). When someone dies in residential aged care: grief and loss for families. https://www.flinders.edu.au/content/dam/documents/research/research-centre-death-dying-palliative-care/When-someone-dies-in-residential-aged-care_Grief-and-Loss-for-Families_RePaDD-Booklet.pdf
- Funk LM, Peters S, Roger KS. The Emotional Labor of Personal Grief in Palliative Care: Balancing Caring and Professional Identities. Qualitative Health Research. 2017;27(14):2211-21
- Goddard C, Stewart F, Thompson G, Hall S. Providing End-of-Life Care in Care Homes for Older People. Journal of Applied Gerontology. 2013;32(1):76-95.
- Kaasalainen S, Brazil K, Ploeg J, Martin LS. Nurses’ Perceptions around Providing Palliative Care for Long-Term Care Residents with Dementia. Journal of Palliative Care. 2007;23(3):173-80.
- Cipriani J, Crea J, Cvrkel K, Dagle S, Monaghan K, Seldomridge L. Coping with the Death of Clients. Physical & Occupational Therapy In Geriatrics. 2000;17(4):65-77.
Anna Lane, Research Associate, RePaDD