Alexa Andrew’s research focuses on the long-term residential care environment for older people – an area she is passionate about making a difference in.
“I worked in an aged care residential facility as an occupational therapist,” she explains, “and made many observations about the culture of the environment and the way it mostly constricts the residents’ ability to engage socially or carry out everyday activities.”
In 2004, the facility where she worked was renovated and Alexa was intrigued to discover a café had been opened in the foyer. This café was intended for use by the residents, their family and friends, the staff and the public. “It was envisioned that the café would provide social opportunities for the residents and facilitate a sense of belonging to a community,” Alexa says. “Many aged care facilities are now re-evaluating the traditional design of their buildings and environment is being seen as a resource for residents to engage in meaningful activities and relationships.”
She highlights an element of culture change referred to as ‘person-centred care’. This acknowledges the older person as a unique individual to be valued and respected, and who has individual needs and desires. The findings of Alexa’s research indicated that the value of the café for the residents aligned with several principles person-centred care.
The first principle is individualised care. The café provides a place where residents can make choices about what to eat, who to go with, when to go and who to sit with. Second, it helps facilitate meaningful relationships and create a sense of belonging. “The café also provided a myriad of opportunities for participation in relationships and the creation and maintenance of social networks,” she says. “Residents have been known to refer to the café as ‘my home away from home’, indicating a sense of belonging.”
In addition, the café provides opportunities for participation in life roles; hosting visitors there has assisted the residents to re-engage in life roles such as hostess, mother, and friend. Also, the café has developed connections to the community, enabling community groups such as book clubs or Probus to meet, and giving residents the chance to remain a member.
Alexa is excited about these findings. “What I’ve hoped to achieve with this research is to highlight the way innovations such as a café can have an impact on the quality of life for residents.”
Andrew, A. & Ritchie, L. (2017) Culture change in aged care facilities: A cafes contribution to transforming the physical and social environment. Journal of Housing For the Elderly, 31:1, 34-46, DOI: 10.1080/02763893.2016.1268557