Aged care, spirituality, frailty, and change

A leading researcher in ageing and spiritual life says the culture in Australia is changing and this must include the increasing need for qualified staff to provide care in residential aged care facilities.


Reverend Adjunct Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay is a member of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology (PACT) at Charles Sturt University where she researches issues around spirituality, frailty and ageing.


She will address the 8th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality to be hosted by the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University in Canberra at the end of October.


Professor MacKinlay says a range of international and local speakers will address the theme ‘Changing cultures of ageing and spirituality’ during pre-conference workshops and the three-day conference from Sunday 27 to Wednesday 30 October.


“As the theme for the conference, ‘Changing Cultures of Ageing and Spirituality’ can have more than one meaning,” Professor MacKinlay said.


“Our whole culture in this country is changing, as are cultures in different countries.


“We also have what in some instances can be viewed as a pretty toxic culture within the residential aged care sector, despite the good efforts of so many aged care personnel, and presentations at this conference hopefully will speak to this issue.”


Professor MacKinlay will lead a pre-conference workshop on spiritual reminiscence and dementia, and will deliver a keynote address at the conference on the topic ‘Ageing and frailty: a spiritual perspective of the lived experience’.


Her presentation is based on recent study of the lived experience of frail older people, and explores the experience of frail people in residential care in an attempt to speak to their stories and to examine what loved ones and carers can learn in order to improve the experience.


“Frailty awaits many of us if we live long enough, but is it to be feared, denied or eliminated from life experience?” she asks. “How are we to face it, and what choices do we have as we move into this stage of life?


“Frailty may often be seen as a precursor to the process of dying and as such can be a confronting life and death challenge, one that we cannot fully comprehend until or unless we are experiencing it ourselves.


“But what is the experience really like, from the inside, for those making the final life journey? Can frailty be prevented? Is it an important component of the whole life experience?


“It is very difficult for those on the ‘outside’ to know and it is only through listening to the narrative of those making these final life journeys that we can learn, first what the experience is like, find commonalities and differences in the experience and then to begin to learn how we may more effectively walk beside those who are making this crucial final life journey.”


Professor MacKinlay said she intends to make a submission to the Royal Commission into Age Care Quality and Safety, about the central importance of ensuring quality of life for older people, no matter what their circumstances.


“In particular, I will emphasise the importance of living well and maximising wellbeing in dementia, and the need to educate the wider public about the stereotype of dementia and how we can make a real difference to peoples’ live when we lose our fear of people who have dementia.


“I will argue that there is a tremendous need for qualified staff to provide care in residential care, and that we need people who know how to care for those who have dementia and those who are dying.


“There is especially a need for carers who can respect and honour them, and for people who can listen with them in the search to find meaning in their lived experience.”


Register for the conference here:


The first international conference on Ageing and Spirituality was held in Canberra in January 2000 and organised by Professor MacKinlay under the Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies (CAPS).


29 May 2019.