Embracing a strengths-based model of long-term care

There has been a move in recent years to change the culture of aging in long-term care homes, and the Hellenic Home for the Aged has not only embraced this model, it wants to share its successful outcomes with others in the sector. 

A workshop focused on changing the culture of aging was led by the Scarborough long-term care home’s administrator, Aldo Di Giovanni, on during the Canadian Association on Gerontology’s annual Scientific and Educational Meeting in Calgary on October 24.

Di Giovanni’s presentation, called the Emergent Seniors’ Age-ability Framework (ESAF), demonstrated how the home has changed the way it looks at aging and provided attendees with ideas they can incorporate.

An underlying theme at Hellenic Home – and the workshop – is that aging is a natural part of life that should be embraced. Aging, Di Giovanni says, should not be ignored or sugar-coated. Most importantly, as people age they do not become “dysfunctional” or “broken,” he says. 

“The ESAF attends to the person’s strengths as they are and feeds those strengths to enable aging and aged seniors to achieve their present potential based on their actual capacities and functionalities,” Di Giovanni explains.

“The ESAF focuses especially on those changes that impact on self-concept, identity, and self-esteem as a result of changes in behaviours or activities of daily living – to the point of forming new emergent self-concepts, identities and self-esteem.”

To change the culture of aging there must first be a shift in how seniors see themselves – and how others see them, says Di Giovanni.

For example, the ESAF model doesn’t view a person as having “poor mobility” – instead, the person “ambulates with a wheelchair.” A resident isn’t “wandering,” they are “exploring.” 

“Our choice of description or our choice of words defines residents,” Di Giovanni says.

When the wording that describes a person’s situation is changed, how caregivers view the person also changes, Di Giovanni says.

Embracing this model of care has helped Hellenic Home move away from an “institutional” approach to care to an approach focused on promoting wellness.

This shift has already happened in activation departments throughout the long-term care sector, says Poli Pergantis, Hellenic Home’s manager of programs and support services.

“In activation, we’re taught to meet the resident where they’re at today,” she says. “We’re not trying to restore anybody; (instead) we’re providing activities to residents at a level they’re capable of completing.”

The next large-scale demographic of long-term care residents will be the baby boomers, a generation of people that has focused on wellness and will demand to live in long-term care homes practising a model of promoting well-being, Pergantis says.

For this reason, the time is now for long-term care providers to plan for and to make a culture shift to accommodate future generations of residents, if they haven’t already, she adds.

Rosemary Ferraro, Hellenic Home’s director of care, says by embracing a strengths-based approach to aging there is also an overall shift in care delivery in long-term care.

“What (this means) for older people living in nursing homes is that residents (are) treated more like (staff members’) peers, rather than as someone that they have to dress, bathe or feed,” she says.