Urgent upskilling needed for aged care workers

ARIIA Research Director, Professor Sue Gordon

Professor Sue Gordon, Research Director of the Aged Care Research Industry Innovation Australia (ARIIA), has emphasised the urgent need to upskill aged care workers to expand the range of physical, social, and psychological support services, allowing older Australians to age in place.

Following the Royal Commission into Aged Care, which found that 80% of people prefer to remain independent in their homes, government estimates suggest that facilitating this preference could save up to $2.2 billion over three years starting in 2024. However, with the population over 80 expected to triple in the next 40 years and a growing shortage of aged care workers, providing high-quality, person-centred community care poses a significant challenge.

“It is not a one-size-fits-all all. We must rapidly innovate to provide the level of care expected by ageing baby boomers. Increasing capacity by offering higher level skill-building and long-term career advancement opportunities is essential.”

Professor Sue Gordon

Adapting Home Care to Complex Needs

Prof Gordon stresses the necessity of creating a collaborative, community-based system to deliver fully integrated home care services capable of adapting to the complex conditions associated with getting older.

She highlights the need for aged care workers to gain knowledge and training in cultural sensitivity to cater to Australia’s diverse population.

“Helping employers and industry to rapidly upskill in critical thinking, change management, and leadership will provide new flexibility to carry out various functions across primary, disability, and aged care. This will allow service providers to offer skilled aged care workers more satisfying career paths,” Prof Gordon added.

Aged care workers in the community can be trained in specialised areas such as social and physical reablement, dementia support, diverse cultural connection programs, and quality end-of-life care or palliative comfort.

Integrating innovation and technology

ARIIA grant-funded projects are aiding the aged care industry in adopting innovation and technology solutions, integrating digital technologies into daily operations. Promoting more innovative care models was a key recommendation of the Aged Care Taskforce’s final report.

To illustrate the potential of such innovations, a consortium of research and healthcare organisations used an ARIIA grant to help aged care workers improve communication with people living with dementia using an artificially intelligent (AI) avatar named “Talk with Ted.” Talk with Ted won the dementia care category in the 2022 Future of Ageing awards – read more about it here.

This project, involving Dementia Australia, Deakin University, Barwon Health, the National Ageing Research Institute, and Ryman Healthcare, aims to enhance communication skills and reduce frustration and confusion among dementia patients.

“Using AI as an experiential learning tool offers enormous opportunities for the aged care industry. Workers can build specific, in-demand skills anywhere, anytime.”

Dr Tanya Petrovich, Dementia Australia.

Future Directions

ARIIA is committed to sharing the findings of its research programs with the community and aged care industry to enhance future workforce capability. Professor Gordon believes that building career pathways to develop more skilled and specialist aged care workers will enable older Australians to enjoy a higher quality of life and independence.

The Australian Government is expected to announce a revised Support at Home program later this year, which may address some of these critical issues and support the upskilling and innovation necessary for the future of aged care.

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