A gentle touch often says what words can’t.

And with touch and hearing the last senses to go in people with advanced dementia, the Namaste Care program at Uniting AgeWell residential facilities aims to improve their end of life care.

During National Palliative Care Week (21 - 27 May) Camilla Rowland, CEO of Palliative Care Australia, says the aim is to put ‘Matters of Life and Death’ front and centre in Australia’s consciousness and to break down taboos around the topic.

Uniting AgeWell General Manager Tasmania Jane Johnston says the Namaste Care program, a non-pharmacological, psychosocial program developed for people living with advanced dementia, looks at stimulating a person’s senses to give them comfort and also pleasure.

For example, combing the hair, gently washing and applying cream to the face, giving gentle foot and hand massages, using scents and oils – whatever can provide comfort.

“It’s back to basics really,” says Jane. “A modern take on what is essentially a centuries-old hands-on approach in letting the older person know, ‘I’m here with you, I care.”

Jane says a study was recently held at Uniting AgeWell Kings Meadow Community Aldersgate where the Namaste Program was evaluated.

“The project looked at the effect of using the Namaste Program – not just on the person with advanced dementia, but the staff using it,” explains Jane. “This entailed staff going on a workshop facilitated by the University of Tasmania, and then evaluating their knowledge and taking a hard look at how much help the program is.”

And the results are overwhelmingly positive. “Families as well as staff have reported they noticed a significant improvement in the older person’s life,” says Jane. “And residents clearly appreciate it and look forward to it.”

They also found it works well with all those at end of life – not just those with advanced dementia. And that all aged care residents irrespective of their health, loved the experience.

Lifestyle Coordinator Treen Sherriff explains, “Everyone deserves this special kind of care, no matter whether they have dementia or are at the end stage of life.”

Treen took part in the workshop, and found it both reinforced and enhanced her practice. She has always “dabbled” in using all the senses, like the Namaste Program, in particular aromatherapy and music which helps to connect with and comfort residents

Some of the care was delivered in people’s rooms, other times it was in one of the quiet areas in the facility. And Treen believes the Namaste program should be used across all aged care facilities everywhere.

Uniting AgeWell is a learning organisation with robust research underpinning all its initiatives.

Enhancing staff confidence and capability in caring for those with advanced dementia aligns with the principles of the National Palliative Care Strategy.

Learn more about residential care at Uniting AgeWell