‘I wonder what you think about the government’s plan to keep older people at home and not in care, Helen,’ asks Joyce, a resident of a retirement village where I occasionally work as a community nurse.
Joyce’s inquiry has been sparked off by the current public conversation around the future of aged care in Australia. Strapped with a burgeoning growth in the numbers of older Australians, the government is forced to reform the aged care sector. At present over one million older Australians utilise aged care services, but in less than 40 years the number is expected to quadruple, due in part to the ageing of the baby boomer generation who made up the huge cohort of 79 million babies who were born between 1946 and 1964.
Our lives are longer now due in part to improved medical care, so ways to pay for the care costs of these extra years have to be found. The recent Caring for older Australians’ report has seized upon the fact that Australians want to live independently at home for as long as possible and it is this sentiment that the government is exploiting. According to a government source quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘the boomers are not going to cop moving into aged care homes’.
I would prefer to remain in my own home until I die but the reality of life at the coal face makes me doubt the new mantra of ageing in place.
Eighty- year old Joyce lives in one of the 90 self contained units in her retirement village and as she ages she can move into a serviced apartment where she will have her cleaning and cooking done for her.
‘What concerns me is that old people ageing at home are often lonely, explains Joyce. As a resident of the village she has the company of around 200 people at varying stages of ageing. Her experiences as a former volunteer for ‘meals on wheels’ brought her into contact with many older people living isolated lives in the wider community.
On one occasion she had arrived bearing lunch for a lonely, ageing woman who refused the food explaining that she no longer had any need. In fact she had just taken an overdose of sleeping pills. ‘I am concerned that this situation will only worsen if there is more encouragement and inducement for the ageing to remain at home,’ suggested Joyce.
Joyce has learnt first-hand how the company of others benefits the ageing. The residents of the village are mostly widowed women who are well cared for by the management and staff and their own families. When they can’t attend to the cooking and cleaning they are able to move into a serviced apartment where they are surrounded by others in the same predicament.
Retirement facilities provide many regular and beneficial activities such as exercise classes and physio visits along with productive craft afternoons, and the popular movie sessions shown on the big screen. But what I really notice are the strong friendships that develop among the women who gather in the meeting areas and catch up on the latest news. Some of this is unwelcome such as that of another resident who has broken her hip and won’t be returning; but mostly they watch out for each other.
As I’m having a cuppa with Joyce and her friends my pager goes off. It’s from one of the residents. Ninety- year old Harold has fallen over and he can’t get up. I find him lying on the kitchen floor head nestling the fridge; a pool of blood streaming from a large wound on his forehead. Harold is conscious but complains of pain all the way down his back and into his legs. Fifteen minutes later Harold is in the back of the ambulance and on his way to care.
Joyce is right to be concerned about ageing in place especially now as so many of us live alone. Who will care for us?