Australia’s aged care homes will face a baby-boomer backlash unless they become happier places to live, researchers have warned but art is successfully being used to inspire happiness in residential care.

Queensland University of Technology Creative Industries Associate Professor Evonne Miller said 25 – 50 per cent of elderly people in aged care suffered depression – and the coming surge in residents born after 1945 was likely to make homes even less happy.

Art class at BallyCara

Baby-boomers, now aged 53 – 71, were much more demanding than pre-war seniors and posed a major challenge for aged care providers, she said.

“Baby-boomers are already entering aged care but their numbers are set to boom in the next decade,” she said.

“They expect more from ageing than previous generations. They are used to pushing boundaries, demanding what they want and they will not change simply because they are in aged care.”

Focusing on happiness is one way to lower depression, and Ballycara has found ways to do this that appear to be working well.

At its retirement and aged living community in Redcliffe, BallyCara introduced a program named SONA (Gaelic word for ‘happiness’) in 2011 to foster healthy and happy living amongst residents by acknowledging the crucial role human relationships played in their sense of contentment.

A/Prof Miller has spent the past four years interviewing more than 100 BallyCara residents as part of her study, Inside Aged Care.

Artistic writing

She has also curated an exhibition of photographs and poems produced by BallyCara residents to capture the essence of their daily lives in aged care. The exhibition will be held at the State Library Queensland from February 1.

“The majority of people living at BallyCara are genuinely happy and have much lower levels of depression than the average resident in an aged care home,’’ A/Prof Miller said.

“BallyCara uses positive psychology to build strong relationships between residents, clients and staff and make life meaningful and enjoyable for the elderly.

“With the number of baby-boomer residents set to rise, aged care homes and services need to place as much emphasis on mental health and building happiness as they do on physical health.”

BallyCara CEO Marcus Riley said staff were encouraged to take time to chat, embrace and joke with residents.

“We are not interested in simply providing physical care for our residents. We want our staff, residents and their relatives to be part of a family,” Mr Riley said.

The exhibition at the Queensland State Library will be on until 28 February and is free.