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Steering a course for ageing well

NHW’s ‘well ageing’ trial to improve the health including the mental health of seniors by helping them live more independently took to the stage at the recent International Conference of Mental Health Nursing on the Gold Coast.

Nadia Tilson, sat down reading the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing
NHW’s Aged Care Navigation Project Officer, Nadia Tilson

Ms Nadia Tilson, who facilitates NHW’s Aged Care Navigation Project, was a guest speaker at the conference. Ms Tilson’s presentation was developed and co-authored in collaboration with Dr Sue Wilson, who was the Mental Health Promotion Clinician for Older Persons, with the Albury Wodonga Early Intervention and Capability Building Unit before taking up her current position in the Strategy and Performance team of Murray PHN.

With our common goal to promote well ageing, Sue and I started meeting to discuss important topics on how best to promote mental health and wellbeing in our community.

Working with Gateway Health and RCoW’s Grit & Resilience team and working around periods of community lockdown we organised events to improve awareness of elder abuse and another to promote R U OK day.

In June 2021, Sue and I decided to put together an ‘abstract’ on the project that I have been working on with the approval of COTA (Council on the Ageing) and NHW.

We sent it off to Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN who organised the conference) for consideration, it was accepted, and we were invited to go and present.

After a few postponements, the conference finally took place from 7 – 9 September.

Ms Tilson said her key message to the conference was to highlight how we are an ageing population and, as the population grows, so can we expect the demand for older persons mental health services to also increase.

She asked those in attendance to consider – if we are already struggling with the numbers of older persons needing mental health support and treatment – how we will meet this growing demand?

Both Royal commissions into aged and mental health services have both made recommendations aiming to improve access and ensure individuals can find and reach the right supports in a timely manner.

The program I facilitated through COTA’s Aged Care Navigator role does exactly that! It has provided an important service to the older members of our community.

We launched a ‘Well Ageing Information Hub’ hosted by a roster of trained volunteers who provide peer support navigation.

I also implemented a successful monthly public lecture series with a range of guest speakers to help engage individuals with key services and community advocates to help them understand and navigate the age care system.

Some of the topics have included:

  • The importance of exercise
  • Caring for your mental wellbeing and how to source help when needed
  • Senior rights
  • Advance care planning and why this is vitally important for your family
  • Making a will
  • How to use modern technologies, and
  • The importance of staying connected

Ms Tilson said that with the help of the John Richards Institute and RCoW, we started our service with the WAVE initiative through which we asked our community what the most well supported older person looked like, they responded by telling us – that they are cared for and connected, they participate in their community, they are mobile and have a choice, they are valued, content, safe and secure, but most of all, they had access to information and services. They also told us that they understand that it is the older person’s responsibility to seek information, but that they need assistance and advice to find that information (John Richards Centre, 2019, p8-9).

The presentation was warmly received at the conference and there has been great interest for the project to be taken up in other health precincts around the country.

Based on our experience here, there is lots of evidence that it benefits the community.

Ms Tilson said one of the other benefits of attending the conference was for the opportunity to network with clinicians from around Australasia and as far away as Canada – she said ‘it was definite highlight.’

I made so many new professional friends with likeminded ambitions in the industry. I learnt so many new innovative processes and methods.

It helped me look at new ways and to think differently to improve our healthcare system as well as deepening my passion to continue to work at improving how we/I care for and support those living with mental illness and mental health problems.

In addition to her conference appearance, all abstracts from the event have been published in the September 2022 Supplement 1 Issue of the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing – so first time author, a summary of Ms Tilson’s paper ‘Navigating older persons services – an adventure in chaos’ is available in print.

Ms Tilson noted her thanks to Dr Sue Wilson “Sue has been my mentor, without her, I would never have done anything like this before, I am very grateful to her for encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone and to try something new”.

Despite the project’s success, the funding ends in December and as of January 1, 2023, the Aged Care Navigator program will be replaced by a more targeted Care Finder program, a result of the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

In Victoria, the implementation of the new Mental Health Regional Boards and the integration of the Older Persons Mental Health into the new model of Adult and Older Persons Mental Health Services, will see access and navigation support provided through the local area hubs

From my experience, I can only reassure you what a difference it makes linking people with a navigator as early in their care pathway as possible because, for older persons – navigation services are intimately linked with the healthy ageing agenda.

It has been an extraordinary experience working with the older people in my community.

Some have been diagnosed with chronic diseases including mental illness, some live with or develop symptomatology as they age and some live free of disease.

Each one of their stories has been as unique as they are. I have helped in big ways and in small – whatever services they have needed, I have worked with them and their families to connect them to.

There is no manual for us as clinicians on how to navigate the system in which we work, and there is certainly no manual for older persons and their families to help them navigate in and through the aged care services they now find themselves in need of.

Too many well-meaning services are running their own systems compounding the complexity of the pathways into and through aged care services.

Ms Tilson said she had even struggled navigating the incessant number and different types of forms and systems that have been built to screen, assess, plan, implement and track service need and delivery. Through those struggles though, at the end of the day I can leave it all behind and go home. Unfortunately, they cannot.

Every individual journey has been different, as the Aged Care Navigator program comes to an end and I reflect on my own and my clients’ experiences, the most important thing I have learnt is that it’s been the relationship that mattered.

Navigators address the anxiety, confusion and disconnect that are the consequences of our complex and fragmented health and aged care system.

This role is fundamentally a health promotion role, we help ensure, at the very least, the system doesn’t hinder, and at best, the system supports an individual, to maintain their physical and psychological integrity, as they journey through older age and when they need it, the aged care system.

In effect, to help make their health last.

Navigating Older Persons Services – An Adventure in Chaos