Is this the best we can do?

This morning, an article from ABC came across my Facebook feed. The title was, “David Goodall, 102yo scientist, told to leave Edith Cowan University post”. Having a strong interest in active, positive ageing,this piqued my interest.

Goodall, with 70 years of experience under his belt, commutes 90 minutes each way to his office on the ECU campus. In order to do this, he takes two buses and a train at least four days a week. The article states that he has been told to pack up his office, with the university declaring him unfit to be there. According to the Dean of the School of Sciences, Andrew Woodward, this decision was taken after some student and staff concerns about Dr Goodall’s safety and well being. You can read the full article here.

I don’t know Dr Goodall, his daughter Karen Goodall-Smith, or Andrew Woodward. I don’t know the detail of the concerns expressed by staff or some students, but surely there was a better outcome than offering Dr Goodall a computer and printer to use at home and banishing him from his office, valued role and social connection. Dr Goodall says that his social connection comes from being at the school. At 102 years of age, I imagine most, if not all of his contemporaries would no longer be living. His daughter was consulted by the school earlier this year and she said that this course of action was the worst thing that could possibly be done and she thought her father may not survive it. She is right, of course, in that social isolation is an enormous issue for older people and causes significant mental and physical health issues.

I’m concerned about two aspects of this situation primarily. First, who was consulted in this process and were any other alternatives considered? Secondly, given the comments on Facebook regarding the article, I wonder where we are headed now and in the future around recognising the value, wisdom, self authority and reciprocity of older citizens.

The article doesn’t mention the process by which the university came to its decision. It says that the daughter was consulted. Was Dr Goodall consulted? Were his colleagues consulted? How about the older colleagues? If Dr Goodall’s wellbeing was an issue, what other alternatives were explored? Was it possible that Dr Goodall be a mentor? Could he have had set office hours where his expertise was available to students not only of ecology (his field), but others who might be interested in the wisdom, insight and story of this man? Offering Dr Goodall another contract of honorary professor, sending him home with a computer, printer and transport will not contribute to his sense of wellbeing. A wellness approach involves recognising a person’s strengths and enhances their independence. Dr Goodall’s commute was contributing to his independence, his office to his valued role and his workplace to his social connection. The chosen solution takes these things away in the best interest of the school and Dr Goodall’s ‘wellbeing’.

The comments regarding the article generally fell into three camps:

Asking Dr Goodall to leave was not a good thing
Older people should consider themselves lucky to have had such a good innings and go quietly into the sunset and;
There are a lot of older people out of work who would love to be able to do so, but face age discrimination
The comments further cemented my belief that we continue to live in a society where older people may be recognised for their contribution, but once they reach their ‘use by’ date, have nothing to offer. Reciprocity of older adults is not recognised. This makes me uneasy as our world becomes more complex and we could use the benefit of an intergenerational approach. We should harness the knowledge, wisdom and social capital of older people which is available. I suspect that once a CEO, CIO, Nurse, GP or University Professor retire, they still retain skills and thinking that got them there. I do appreciate that organisations who support older adults would be happy to support Dr Goodall, but by suggesting that’s the best thing for him we take away his authority to decide that for himself.

Working together in thinking and planning for the future, recognising strengths is central to the framework of Planning for the Next Season (www.thenextseason.com.au). Coproduction of solutions between older employees and employers would yield great benefit as well (www.communitywest.com.au).

I hope that ECU considers alternatives for Dr Goodall which are truly in his best interest and I hope that the positive ageing movement which is gathering steam reaches an apex by which we can recognise the authority, contribution and reciprocity of older adults. Otherwise, all of us who are lucky enough to have lived many years will continue to be considered a burden rather than an asset.

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Possibilitarian

Reading much of the content for the sector online and on social media recently, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the future of ageing and aged care is bleak. There is no doubt that the sector is having challenges- particularly around administrative costs, different funding models, consumer driven approaches and legislative directives.

Aside from that, we know:

People who are ageing have more chronic health issues than younger people
The number of informal carers has begun and will continue to decline
The incidence of dementia is higher in older adults
There is a shrinking tax base
We are at risk of viewing everyone over the age of 65 with a use by date which has come and gone or of putting all people over the age of 65 into a homogenous group of expensive, passive service users. It’s the ‘ageing tsunami’ come to life.

Whilst the reality of caring for the most vulnerable in the community is a very real issue, time needs to be spent in thinking about the strengths of older people and what they bring to the conversation about their future- how they live and how they wish to be supported.

The Aged Care Roadmap says that there is a reluctance by older people to discuss and plan for their future aged care and that it is important to change societal attitudes, culture and behaviour about aged care so that older people will engage in the discussion earlier.

This is not an easy task, but necessary for empowerment of consumers. Some may believe this is a Pollyanna perspective. I prefer to think of it as Possibilitarian and there are others who have a similar view.

The possibilities

It is possible to engage with older people to ask what they really want as they age. It is possible to view people who are ageing as the largest pool of collective community knowledge and social capital that we’ve had in history. Before we start talking about ‘care’, can we talk about community, and the type of interventions which might benefit prior to any ‘care’? I would suggest a conversation about specific interventions including:

Work
Social participation
Preparing for the next season of life (not ‘retirement’, rather a transition out of full time work and into other valued roles).
Promotion of health and mobility
Appropriate housing
Access to information
People want to live life the way they always have in an environment of their choosing. That means living, making choices, deciding for themselves, as they have done throughout their lives.

Where to start?

In order to empower consumers to prepare for the future, the opportunity is to listen today. Listen to the positive ageing movement which is beginning to gain pace. Listen to consumer groups outside of the aged care system in what they want and hope for as they age. Consider community interventions which rely on the social capital of communities for governance and development. Look for and encourage innovation- not just by organisations but by consumers themselves. Look into coproduction and facilitated peer discussions for future service direction. This is the time to start to shape the future together.

Reaching out to consumers and creating connections is the start of a beautiful relationship.

Active Ageing Conference

The Active Ageing Conference, Sydney

The Active Ageing Conference, Sydney

 

Planning for the Next Season is at the Active Ageing Conference in Sydney tomorrow! So excited to be speaking to aged care providers about the importance of early planning and consumer empowerment with a wellness focus.

Also pleased to let you know that the Planning for the Next Season workshop resource is now available for purchase at $25 per copy. If you’d like to order, please email us at melissa.young@thenextseason.com.au

Additionally, if you’re an organisation who would like to sponsor a workshop for customers or future customers, we’d love to hear from you.