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:

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.

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