Home | Industry+Policy | A plus for all of us

A plus for all of us

Positive ageing needs to be at the front of the agenda, for the benefit of older people and the economy. By Louis White.

It was nine years ago that Nick McDonald decided to play an active part in the lives of Australia’s ageing population.

A former registered nurse who has also studied an MBA, McDonald had been working for five years with Stanhope Home Nursing Services (now KinCare) as the national business development manager, when he decided to go out on his own.

“What was becoming increasingly obvious is the amount of elderly who wanted to remain living at home,” McDonald says. “There really weren’t a lot of options for the elderly and I thought I could provide a valuable service.”

McDonald began by handing out flyers, writing the copy for his website and travelling around Sandringham, Victoria, to start his business, Prestige in-home care.

“As soon as I got a call I would take off the business suit and put on a nursing uniform and go to where I was needed,” McDonald says. “The business grew organically and now we operate out of a head office in Cheltenham, employing more than 300 staff covering most of Victoria.”

Australian older people increasingly want to remain in their own homes, to retain their independence and contribute more to the community.

“The first thing any family member says to us is that their grandparent or parent doesn’t want to leave the family home,” McDonald says. “So, we provide a range of services that enable support from one hour a day or week up to 24 hours a day. These range from personal care, transport, socialising through to helping out with chores around the home.

“We find the more we positively engage the resident in the activities, allowing them to do what they are still able, the better they feel about themselves and the happier they are.”

But keeping seniors living independent and living in their own homes has become an economic issue as well, as Australia’s ageing population is expected to put a greater and greater strain on resources.

A Productivity Commission report, An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future released in November 2013, states that “population ageing is largely a positive outcome, primarily reflecting improved life expectancy. Females (males) born in 2012 will on average live for an estimated 94.4 (91.6) years.”

The report reveals that, “The population aged 75 or more years is expected to rise by 4 million from 2012 to 2060, increasing from about 6.4 per cent to 14.4 per cent of the [total]. In 2012, there was roughly one person aged 100 years old or more to every 100 babies. By 2060, it is projected there will be around 25 such centenarians.”

The alarming numbers don’t stop. Australia will have 1.8 million people aged over 85 in 2050; 1 in 4 people will be aged over 65 by 2056. The life expectancy at birth has risen by 25 years in the last century. To top it off, 1 million people will have dementia by 2050 and 85,000 more aged-care places will be required in the next decade.

Total private and public investment requirements until 2060 are estimated to be more than five times the cumulative investment made over the last half century.

So it seems strange that the current Australian Government six months ago announced that the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing would no longer be convened.

That hasn’t stopped Everald Compton, former chairman of the panel, from actively pursuing its agenda. Per Capita, an eminent not-for-profit think tank, invited the panel to join it in completing the Blueprint on Ageing using private funding. The publication will be released in September this year.

Compton also sees the need for more engaged, productive seniors – for the good of the older people themselves and for the Australian economy.

“There are so many ageing issues that we need to address,” Compton says. “The blueprint we are working on is looking at 12 issues, including business opportunities, productivity, wellbeing, enabling environments and technology. People are living longer, so medical costs for all governments of Australia will increase, putting further strain on the economy.

“It will bankrupt the economy if every person retires at 65 and sits around and does nothing.”

“Between 2030 and 2040, Australia’s economy will really be hit by the amount of elderly Australians not working and we need to change that,” says Compton, one of the founding directors of National Seniors Australia. “Mature-age employment is a big issue. We need people to voluntarily work longer and we need to take away the compulsory retirement age. We need to train the elderly in new skills so they can start their own business or enter a different profession, giving them suitable taxation incentives.

“Housing and transport issues need to be addressed so that we build houses and housing complexes suitable for the elderly to live in [that are] near public transport and medical facilities.

“I personally think there is a fortune to be made by companies who want to market the appropriate goods and services to the elderly. It certainly isn’t being done yet.”

A Per Capita report released late last year titled, Still Kicking, Longevity and Ageing: The demographic climate change of our time highlights the need to get the ageing more involved in living a fruitful life – for the sake of their own finances.

The paper examines the incomes, expenditures and debt positions of older Australians and finds that post-retirement income is too low. Superannuation and the aged pension together are not ensuring a comfortable standard of living for Australians with longer lifespans.
A study by HSBC on Australia’s retirees found that various factors are contributing to older Australians working more; nearly 40 per cent of respondents said they had not prepared adequately, or at all, for a comfortable retirement.

Working longer boosts retirement savings, helps people retain mental agility and can stave off dementia. One person who has witnessed this first hand, as a part of an overall higher degree of engagement, is Colin McDonnell, service manager at Uniting Care Starrett Lodge on the Central Coast of New South Wales. He has actively worked with aged-care residents for the past 12 years, playing a leading role in helping those with dementia lead an active life.

Residents have participated in glamour calendar shoots, published books and sang at karaoke nights. More recently Starrett Lodge has been completing ‘Bucket Lists’, sending residents flying in helicopters, riding in stretch limos and wine tasting in the Hunter Valley.

“It is important residents be more participant than recipient,” McDonnell says. “We start with immediately changing their environment and keep everything positive.

“We get people out more and we have children around by inviting a pre-school to come and visit once a week. It is important that relatives become family members again and not carers. Once we re-establish that link, we see a big change in the dynamic of the relationship.”

Starrett Lodge has won numerous awards, including the Person Centred Care awarded for care provided for people living with dementia from Alzheimer’s Australia NSW and the NSW Central Coast Local Health District in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

McDonnell’s presentation “Embedding Positive Living in Aged Care” states that an environment of boredom and lower quality of life can lead to agitation and aggression for those with dementia. On the other hand, addressing self-efficacy issues helps both residents and staff members focus on the key areas of enabling residents.

“We did some studies and worked with fine arts teams at two universities to design and build a garden and atrium,” McDonnell says. “The analysis was amazing. The overall quality of life of residents improved dramatically after the garden and atrium were built at Starrett Lodge. Some 60 per cent of residents said their quality of life was now very good (against 20 per cent previously) and 40 per cent said their quality of life was good (against 70 per cent before).

“Incorporating that with flexible staff management has lowered employee turnover and created a better environment. The key is to concentrate on residents’ abilities not their perceived disabilities.

“We are all about encouraging positive ageing and evaluating what we are doing. Once you create a personalised environment, everyone benefits.”

Southern Cross Care, a provider of residential and community care services for older people throughout Melbourne and regional Victoria, also focuses on positive ageing.

The organisation has nine residential homes, 1300 staff and is the largest provider of community services in the state, providing care for about 6000 people. Its approach to aged care is a holistic one, reflecting the belief that every human should be able to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.

“We have a belief system based on a number of theoretical frameworks,” chief executive Jan Horsnell says. “We look at the whole person from an emotional, spiritual, physical and wellness point of view.

“We ask them what are their hopes and dreams for their life after we discover who they are. Whether they are residents, living at home or whatever their circumstances, we believe that we need to support them in their established network. This, we find, leads to a more positive outcome.

“Individuals need to be able to make choices and we do everything we can to support them in doing that. Quality of life is very important, no matter what the circumstances.”

Australia will face many difficult social and economic challenges in the future as we deal with an ageing population that is being forced out of the workplace. Australia needs to change its mindset to encourage people to keep on working, enable them to live at home as long as possible and be active in the community no matter what their age.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now