A word from our elders on the aged care experience

  • A word from our elders on the aged care experience image

In Queensland, Fran is currently thinking about the questions she would ask candidates in the federal election about aged care. Fran lives in an aged care home and has lived experience of aged care, and the aged care system. Fran’s questions about aged care, aged care facilities, and the ideas she has on how to address the current state of the aged care sector are below.

“Over the years,” writes Fran, “there have been too many hollow words of steadfast support promised for aged care by the government, and too little actions. Words without action make a cruel mockery of the promises and reveal the callous opposite reality. A lump of money just sidled off into the aged care column without any specific allocation of usage is no answer to urgent needs. It shows little concern, little knowledge, and laziness on behalf of the minister involved. I’d ask the candidates if they agreed with this – and if not, why.”

Fran is also concerned with the process of obtaining aged care services, whether residential or in the home. She’d like to ask the candidates to update the aged care application process, as she and her contemporaries find the forms complicated, and age un-friendly.

Fran wants a much flatter, leaner system, involving residents and personal carers, which, she writes, would be more motivating, add more personal ownership, and personal carers would have a voice and subsequently do a better job. And she writes, it would also automatically be much more transparent.

If we are to address the conditions in aged care, we need empathy, less red tape, and more transparency from government about where the funding for aged care is being allocated. But we also need to acknowledge that our senior Australians have a lifetime of experience.

“In today’s society, across the spectrum,” she writes, “it is generally the case, that our aged people, instead of being respected for what they have contributed to the community over many years, and therefore being revered for living a long life, are perceived as a problem.

“This ‘problem’ has largely received little Government attention, either those living in their own home, or in an aged care facility. It is the case that many aged people feel on the outer of society and forgotten.”

Fran feels strongly that Personal Carers are the most important people who work in aged care facilities.

“Their role is very important. Yet they are given very little recognition for this and treated as if they at the bottom of the bureaucratic pile – which they are.

“They are, however, the up-front people, the people family and visitors see all the time and get to know.

“If they are good PCs all is well, if they are not, word gets around very quickly, in and outside the facility. Likewise, the ubiquitous issue of the quality of the food.”

Fran calls for a review of the personnel management in aged care, with more emphasis placed on the direct feedback of residents, and their personal carers. Personal carers, particularly in lockdown and under visitor restrictions due to COVID-19, play the most important role in the life of an aged care resident.

“Loneliness and someone to talk to, someone to hold your hand and give you a smile and a hug – these are caring aspects of a personal carer’s job,” she wrote.

“Patience and understanding if residents are slow and making light of embarrassing situations with a smile and small appropriate comments.”

“All are caring aspects, with others, which need prominence during the day of any personal carer.

“Hopefully they are natural traits, but for some personal carers they are not. Efficiency needs to be equally balanced with empathy.

“Much empathy, compassion and news coverage quite rightly goes to people who lose their homes for whatever reason – natural causes or the tragic consequences of human mistakes,” writes Fran, “can you even begin to understand how it must feel to be compelled as an aged person, maybe recently bereaved, to leave your home where you brought up your children, and shared so many family celebrations; to leave your treasured belongings, your beloved pet, your neighbours, your friends, your garden, your social groups?

“In fact, to leave the whole of your life behind, and go to live, for the rest of your life in one room and a bathroom, and with a communal dining room?”

“The loss is devastating, the impact huge. Without skilled help, for many it is life destroying. No wonder so many in aged care facilities are timid, languishing and confused, allowing their former independence to erode, leaving them feeling helpless. Before long apathy sets in.”

And Fran’s final question, that we should all be asking ourselves, and our candidates?

“Who else in society, if having difficulty with walking, but otherwise well, is encouraged to spend most of the day sitting in his/her room – lockdown excepted – with very little, if any, hands on activity or daily outside garden visits for fresh air and stimulation?” she asks.

“Is this compassionate, even humane, care for our aged people? Why do we think it acceptable?”