What is ‘unmet needs’ in aged care? Every single person has a range of fundamental needs, from the need for safety, comfort and nutrition through to the need for social connection, dignity and self-actualisation. These human needs accompany us through every stage of our lives.

So how can we ensure every resident in an aged care home has their needs met? It’s essential that in our caring roles we can understand and recognise the presence of any unmet needs, in order to properly support the happy and fulfilling lives of our residents. 

What are unmet needs in aged care?    

The first step is to define unmet needs in aged care so that we are equipped to recognise them. Human needs include the physiological basics of food, water, clothing, sleep, and shelter – but there are many more aspects we require to live a good life. These include: 

  • Safety needs like health and emotional security
  • The need for love and belonging, including connection with family and friends
  • Esteem needs, which include respect from others as well as self-esteem
  • Cognitive needs, such as gaining knowledge and flexing creativity 
  • Aesthetic needs, like appreciating the world’s beauty and feeling awe
  • Self-actualisation needs, which link in with setting and achieving personal goals
  • Transcendence needs, which can link in with elements like spirituality and altruism.


Why is it vital to be able to recognise unmet needs in aged care?

It’s particularly important that we can recognise unmet needs in an aged care setting, because as carers we play a direct role in supporting the quality of life and wellbeing of older people. We have the capability and skills to help someone live a good life. It may seem like unmet needs are a sign of poor care or neglect, but even in a very good aged care home there may be unmet needs to recognise and address: for example, if a resident’s needs are changing over time. 

Back in 2020, a survey by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) showed that only around a quarter of people living in residential aged care homes or receiving home care packages felt that their care needs were always met. Fortunately since then the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has led to major reforms of the aged care industry in Australia, leading to much greater awareness and responses to unmet needs.

Indicators of unmet needs in aged care    

As well as having the quality care models and structures in place to meet residents’ needs on a daily basis, a key part of providing high quality care is also being able to notice if a person’s needs are not being met for any reason. 

So what are the indicators of unmet needs in aged care that we should always be looking out for? No matter what your role is within a care team, it’s crucial to note and respond to any of these signs of unmet needs in aged care.

Behavioural changes in residents    

It stands to reason that if our needs aren’t met, we may not be our usual happy selves. Changes in a resident’s behaviour can reflect needs that aren’t being met. If you notice someone feeling bored, showing anger, seeming stressed or conversely showing a lack of emotion or enthusiasm, it will be important to take some time and check in with that person.  

A decline in physical health    

While not all physical changes will reflect an unmet need, it’s vital to actively notice and assess any physical declines to ensure the resident has everything they require. For example, rapid weight loss may indicate that a resident needs more support around meal times or some emotional support around anxiety. If a resident is having trouble with their balance, this could indicate a need for an eye check, cognitive support or physical support, depending on the person’s experiences.

Errors or gaps in healthcare delivery    

Mistakes or gaps in healthcare delivery can mean that residents aren’t receiving the care or information they need. One indicator might be if the resident doesn’t know or understand important information about their own health or health condition. Another sign can be if there doesn’t seem to be the equipment, medication or health supplies to manage someone’s condition adequately. Always flag these types of indicators quickly if they occur to ensure residents’ needs are fully met.

Lack of staff responsiveness    

While we take extra measures to maintain a robust staff to resident ratio at all Aurrum Aged Care homes, it’s always worth looking out for any signs that team members aren’t responding or cannot respond to resident needs in a timely way. If this is the case carers may not have the time to build personal connections with residents, to support their full social and physical needs, or to notice needs that are going unmet. 

Poor hygiene    

Poor hygiene in a resident can indicate that someone needs extra support with showering, that they have a new need for equipment or supplies, or that the person’s physical or cognitive needs may have changed. If you notice changes in hygiene or cleanliness, this is a time to be speaking with the resident and communicating with others on the care team about any unmet needs.

Strategies for addressing a person’s unmet needs 

So what can be done to address unmet needs in aged care? If you’ve noticed that a resident might have unmet needs, step one will always be to speak with the resident about these changes and what they need. It’s also important to observe and document any care need changes with your care team and leaders, so everyone can support that resident appropriately.

If the resident identifies that they have an unmet need, the next few steps can help.

Asking the person about their emotions, needs and goals

There’s no place for assumptions when it comes to ensuring a person’s needs are fulfilled, and nobody knows a person’s needs as well as that person themselves. Sitting down and having an honest discussion with the resident is the best way to gain further insights into the unmet needs. It can sometimes help to ask the resident about their goals and desires, as these can often help to guide an appropriate response.

Updated individual care plans   

Every resident will work with the care team to develop a personalised care plan when first moving into aged care, and this care plan is continually updated with any changes to care requirements. The care team can work with the resident to create care planning that will help better support them through formalised steps, instructions or recommendations for carers. Remember that quality, holistic aged care is centred around the whole person, taking into account their physical, emotional, social and other needs. 

Proactive support strategies    

Sometimes, supportive strategies can be put in place to help a resident’s needs be fully met. For example, if a resident is feeling lonely or isolated but is struggling to take part in social activities, their care team can actively support them in their social engagement. Or there may be a new plan put in place to help a resident shower and dress each morning if they start to require a higher level of dementia care.

Environmental factors    

Person-centred care means working with the resident to find the best solution to an unmet need. Sometimes a change in the physical environment or situation can make a world of difference. Things like lighting, temperature, fresh air and noise levels can all be adjusted  to suit the individual’s needs. Perhaps the resident needs a personalised adjustment to their nutritional preferences or requirements, or they would simply feel happier if they can catch some sunshine in the garden every day. 

Management or training   

At times a resident’s unmet need may be best met through changes in their care team. Based on the situation there could be a call to adjust staffing, training, leadership strategies or communication styles. It’s important for anyone choosing an aged care provider that their care team has an attitude of continual improvement and can look at their processes objectively, as these qualities help us to deliver the best possible care.

Of course, the right steps forward will depend on the resident, their needs and the situation, so a personalised approach is essential.

Supporting a resident’s full needs with quality aged care services enables that person to enjoy a great quality of life, optimal health outcomes and a sense of belonging and wellbeing. And really, what could be more rewarding as a carer?

Join Aurrum’s aged care team

If caregiving is in your nature, we’d love to hear from you. We are always on the lookout for exceptional people in a range of roles for Aurrum Aged Care homes in Victoria and New South Wales: from registered nurses and personal carers, to chefs and gardeners. We offer a range of benefits including study grants, an employee assistance program, flexible work hours and referral bonuses. 

You can learn more about aged care careers at Aurrum and explore our job vacancies today.