Spirituality should be an integral part of caring for an older person, but many care staff find it difficult to talk about spirituality for themselves, let alone understand, discuss and provide spiritual care to those they care for. Dr Julie Fletcher’s research on spiritual needs and assessment led to her making an image of a flower with petals covering the key areas needed for the spiritual screening tool: connection with self, nature, creativity, relationship, or ‘something bigger’ * which became the symbol of ConnecTo.
ConnecTo has been trialled successfully in aged care organisations (metropolitan, regional and rural aged care), showing that their activities, pastoral care, and assessment staff now have new understandings of the broad concepts of spirituality and spiritual care and that it’s not just about religion: “By understanding my own connections and the importance it has for me as an individual, I can know, understand and value the importance of spirituality for others” (staff member at Churches of Christ in Queensland).
ConnecTo uses simple, straightforward language, enabling staff in a range of settings e.g. aged, home and palliative care to engage in spiritual care conversations. The tool incorporates a visual map and two other formats that can be incorporated into existing communication processes between staff and older people they care for.
“Part of the beauty of the tool is its flexibility. It can be used at pre-admission, in the initial assessment process, or as a review when an older person is experiencing significant change or transition,” Ilsa Hampton, CEO of Meaningful Ageing Australia, says.
“We had a woman move in and a ConnecTo conversation happened that morning. The admissions coordinator noted next to the ‘Creativity’ circle, “loves music”. That very afternoon she was connected to a visiting music group performance. We could do that because we knew what she liked” (Angela Uhrhane at Lutheran Aged Care, Albury).
The benefits of ConnecTo are varied; organisations using the tool will be developing key skills enabling staff to engage meaningfully with clients/residents. These skills enhance relationship between staff and older people they care for, minimising loneliness and isolation. Staff will be better able to identify the particular spiritual needs of the older person, and connect them with meaningful practices, volunteers and groups to support their individual needs. They will also be able to identify instances of spiritual distress and refer to appropriate spiritual care support.