Aged Care Featured Leader

Illuminating lives through the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme

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As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of aged care, a beacon of hope shines through in the form of the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme (ACVVS).

For nearly three decades, this program, once known as the Community Visitors Scheme, has been quietly weaving a tapestry of human connection and resilience for older adults across Australia.

In this Featured Leader article, Ageing with Grace CEO Esis Tawfik shares the stories and impact of this remarkable initiative.

ACVVS, funded by the Australian Government since 1992/1993, has burgeoned into a nationwide effort spanning organisations including Ageing with Grace, each entrusted with the vital task of nurturing and facilitating volunteer relationships.

The mission is clear: to combat the pervasive sense of loneliness and isolation experienced by a diverse range of older individuals, including those from LGBTIQA+, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds, Veterans, Indigenous communities and more.

At its core, the scheme seeks to create connections that transcend the surface, offering solace, camaraderie and a renewed sense of purpose.

The impact of loneliness on older adults

Loneliness among older adults has been extensively studied, and research consistently highlights the detrimental effects it can have on both mental and physical well-being.

As Esis emphasised, loneliness is more than just a feeling of social isolation; it is a complex emotional and psychological state that can have serious consequences such as depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, cardiovascular health, immune system, inflammation, sleep problems, quality of life, unhealthy behaviours such as overeating, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption. 

Stories of transformation

The stories that emerge from the ACVVS are as diverse as the individuals it serves. An inspiring facet of the program is its ability to bring generations together in unanticipated ways. Esis shared some of the many inspiring heartwarming instances of the program.

  1. A young volunteer (early 20’s) is matched to an older person and their first visit was via video chat because they were matched during COVID. It was “love at first sight” because they hit it off so well.  The young volunteer (lets call her Eve), feels she gets more out of the visits because her mum passed away from Cancer in 2016 and having a beautiful and kind older person in her makes her feel like she has her mum again. They do all sorts of things – chat, get their nails done together at a salon and go shopping.  A real friendship and love have developed between the two.
  2. A volunteer who is of a Greek background is matched to an older person who is Greek and has no visitors. The visits are important to the 95-year-old Greek lady and are just as important to the ACVVS volunteer visitor who is honouring her mum by participating in this volunteering opportunity and encouraging a life enriched by volunteering.  The volunteer reports that she finds her older friend so much more animated and happy and looks forward to her visits and leaves the door unlocked for her volunteer visitor when she knows she is coming.
  3. The volunteer shares a lovely story of her friendship with an older person who used to enjoy cooking but because of her increased frailty had stopped cooking.  The older lady had kept many of her favourite recipes and last Christmas the volunteer surprised her with a cooking session where they baked shortbread biscuits. Also, this volunteer does weekly readings with her older friend which leads them into conversation about childhood memories and conversations about their life experiences.
  4. Tom felt isolated, depressed and found communication very difficult due to his Cerebral Palsy. He was matched to a Male volunteer visitor who was very kind, patient, an active listener and had a genuine interest and made Tom feel important and valued.  Through this friendship, Tom was transformed because of this friendship with his volunteer visitor and is now a passionate disability advocate having re-found his purpose (we later found out that he had been a highly influential disability advocate in the 1970’s, attending Parliament House to receive an OAM for his work.
  5. An older Egyptian man who lost his wife to cancer 10 years ago and whose family lived interstate was incredibly lonely. He was matched to a lovely female volunteer who visits her older Egyptian friend and they listen to Arabic classical music, watch Egyptian movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s and cook together.  The volunteer has taught her older friend to cook a few things to add to his list of meals and reports, learning so much from her older friend and becoming much more confident within herself.
  6. An older man who identifies as LGBTIQA+ felt that in the aged care home, he was surrounded by people he had nothing in common with. His volunteer visitor took him out into the community and they would attend Drag shows and also a Pride March. The volunteer reports that it was a privilege to hear firsthand from those that paved the way before him and he found that these outings gave his older friend a new lease on life, igniting his memories and colouring his days. 

The role of volunteers and training

ACVVS owes much of its success to dedicated volunteers who become the lifeblood of the program.

Volunteers undergo comprehensive training encompassing essential knowledge, boundaries, advocacy and communication skills. This training extends beyond the practical to fostering personal growth, expanding active listening abilities and nurturing an appreciation for older individuals and diverse backgrounds. The testimonials of volunteers turned caregivers, advocates, and community leaders are testament to the far-reaching impact of the training they receive.

Esis noted, “Volunteers report a sense of purpose, fulfillment, reduced loneliness, increased sense of joy, improved skills such as active listening, an appreciation and respect for older people and people from different backgrounds. An increased appreciation and gratitude for their life and increased awareness of the importance of connection.”

Towards a compassionate future

Looking ahead, ACVVS seeks to evolve alongside the changing landscape of ageing. With an ageing population and changing societal dynamics, the need for connection and support will only intensify. The program envisions expanding into family-oriented endeavours, where whole families dedicate time to visit and uplift older individuals, thus bridging the generational gap.

“I believe the need for the ACVVS will only increaseIn the last 30 years, the program has evolved considerably from a service for older people in Residential Aged Care Homes to one that is now also offered to those waitlisted or receiving a home care package,” Esis said.

As ACVVS continues to flourish and impact lives, it brings forth a profound realisation: our older members are not merely spectators of the past, but vibrant contributors to our collective present and future. By embracing their wisdom, experiences, and stories, we usher in a more compassionate society that values and supports its elders.

As Ageing with Grace and like-minded organisations strive to foster these connections, we move one step closer to a world where age is celebrated as a continuum of life, resilience and hope.

Esis hopes that the program becomes one where whole families volunteer together and visit an older person on a regular basis.

We need more people to put their hand up to volunteer and we also want to hear from people who feel they could benefit from a volunteer visitor to enhance their life,” Esis said.

For inquiries about volunteering or referrals to the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme (ACVVS), please contact State Network Members through this link: State Network Members. For enquiries outside of ACT, NSW and Victoria, you can reach out directly to Esis Tawfik CEO, Ageing with Grace Email: info@ageingwithgrace.org.au Phone: 0491 272 417

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