Aged Care: Neglect!

A couple of weeks back, I attended the community forum in Newcastle, for Australia’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. I was close to tears as I listened to people’s harrowing stories of their experiences in relation to the aged care sector. So, this month, I can’t go past this particular publication. Sure, it’s not a journal article, but it’s of equal importance, in my humble opinion, particularly to Australians.

The Foreword of the Commission’s Interim Report (2019), titled: Neglect, opens with: “It’s not easy growing old. We avoid thinking and talking about it….The Australian community generally accepts that older people have earned the chance to enjoy their later years…Yet the language of public discourse is not respectful towards older people. Rather, it is about burden, encumbrance, obligation and whether taxpayers can afford to pay for the dependence of older people.” As many of the forum’s speakers stated, once a person is being cared for by the aged care sector, it’s often “out of sight, and out of mind”.

I attended because I’m concerned about my own ageing; because I’ve been troubled about the care given to elderly members of my family; and because of the stories I’ve heard and investigated in the pre-prescribed care many therapists are trained to provide to residents of Aged Care facilities. Understandably, commission may raise more questions than it answers, but, at this celebratory time of the year for many, I leave you with the question the attending Commissioner, Ms Lynelle Briggs AO, asked asked us, in her closing comments: “Where’s the joy?”

Out of interest, I’ve just searched publications in the last 2 years, for evidence relating to older people and joy. Although findings are limited, one study sheds some light on this. Rinnan et al (2019) set out to find “new approaches to increase positive health and well-being” in residents aged care facilities in Norway. The researchers found “joy of living” was associated with “positive relations, a sense of belonging, sources of meaning, moments of feeling well, and acceptance”. I look forward to a day when quality aged care is the norm, and not the exception. I look forward to a day when the concept of Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds is just one of many examples of quality aged care; again, the norm and not the exception.

It’s not easy growing old. As Commissioner Briggs asked us to do, I ask you to read the Interim Report, tell people about the report, and talk with family and friends about our aged care. Let’s make sure older Australians are not “out of sight, and out of mind”.

Reference: Rinnan E, André B, Drageset J, Garåsen H, Arild Espnes G, Haugan G (2018) Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 32(4), 1468-1476, https://doi.org/10.1111/scs.12598

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