In residential aged care facilities staff see people they’ve got to know pass away. It’s how it is. In some organisations they will get the opportunity to go to the funeral. But what are other common practices at the time of residents’ deaths? How do they support resilience in staff, residents and resident families? Do they lay out bodies for families to view?

With interests and skills in this area, we undertook a research scan to provide the sector with insight into different organisations’ rituals, including when a resident dies. Respondents come from facilities in metropolitan Melbourne, from affordable to high end. Roles range from lifestyle coordinators and workers to clinical care coordinators and care managers. We have also talked to educators in the field.

Ritual in residential aged care - use of a bell


We asked about rituals each organisation has in place, including rituals for death; policies around death and dying; roles and responsibilities; and what things the respondent values or would like to see done differently when a resident dies.

Early findings highlight that almost all facilities have similar well-defined rituals around major events such as Mothers’ Day, Anzac Day, and so on.

What is notable is that rituals relating to death differ widely. But across the sector there is still a degree of what one respondent called ‘hiding and pretending’, and a culture of avoiding the subject of death, especially with residents. This leaves both staff members and residents uneasy and confused since they know someone is missing. When there’s an opportunity to share elements of the person’s life story, that really helps. The findings indicate that there is welcome practice change in some organisations, with some introducing clearly defined rituals, for example for removing a body from the home.

The majority of respondents see an ability to be open about death as essential for resilience for staff and residents. Leadership by executive staff is also seen as essential, with training and adequate staffing levels contributing to good practice.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and we look forward to sharing more detailed research results later this year.

This post was originally published in Ageing Industry Network Newsletter Issue 8, October 2017.