Speaking at the Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) National Conference in Melbourne last week, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett delivered a convincing argument on how we all need to better prepare to support a growing “experienced” population.
“I hate the word ‘aged’ and I hate the word ‘old’,” Mr Kennett declared. “To me, we’re all becoming more experienced with the passing of time.”
The more experienced sector of the community – aged over 65 years – currently represents 13.5 percent of our total population. By 2050, this is expected to jump to 22.5 percent, or almost a quarter of the entire population. While this may not be news to any of us, Mr Kennett pointed out that we are still very much immersed in a system that is not prepared to support these changes.
“I have no doubt that with the passage of time … governments are going to be under pressure trying to meet the growing needs of these communities for social provision, compassionate provision,” Mr Kennett said. He also called for aged care providers to better organise themselves in terms of articulating the needs of the sector.
“This is a huge sector made up of so many people aged over 65, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who service the sector. But where’s your political clout? Who is listening to you?”
“When you go to governments and you put forward an argument, yes they listen and yes they’re polite, but I don’t think the reaction is either long-term focused or actually going to provide for what’s needed in the short-term,” he said.
If stakeholders within the sector continued to work independently and did not think about positioning itself for at least the next 25 to 30 years, Mr Kennett warned that the challenges aged care organisation face today are going to become impossible to overcome in the future.
Mr Kennett also urged the audience to seriously consider advocating for both their clients and their employees.
“Who is the advocate that is trying to change public opinion about the needs of more experienced people? I don’t think as a sector we have come to grips with the need for advocacy,” he explained. He said it was particularly important for the sector to contribute to a change in the existing culture that says when you get to 65 years old, you suddenly have to retire, you’re of no worth and no one cares about you.
The first step towards establishing a new culture within the more experienced community is recognising the positive contributions that are being made by those people aged 65 years and over.
Dominic Campbell from Creative Ageing International, who also presented at the ACSA National Conference, gave a great example of how ageing can be celebrated within the community. Mr Campbell developed Bealtaine, which is Ireland’s month-long nationwide festival about being creative as people age.
The festival is a collaborative effort and has grown remarkably since 1996 when there were only 52 events. In 2013 over 112,000 people in 28 counties participated in over 3500 events put on by 700 organisers.
From dance to cinema, painting to theatre, Bealtaine showcases the talents and creativity of both first-time and professional older artists. It is a chance for people to make new and challenging work, a chance to communicate traditions between the generations. It is a chance for the novice to discover a talent until then unseen and a chance for a long-dormant skill to find a new outlet.
“Arts and culture help us to open up our understanding of ageing,” explained Mr Campbell, “and it seems that people involved in arts and cultural life don’t retire!”
An equally important part of greater advocacy is to acknowledge and celebrate the incredible contributions that are made by the employees within the sector. The services provided by the aged care sector are irreplaceable, and the people who provide that care day in and day out deserve support, recognition and above all, our deepest gratitude.
Initiatives such as the Hunter Aged Care Achievement Awards are paving the way by recognising excellence and innovation in the care of eldery people, in Australia’s aged care industry. These particular awards provide an opportunity for the community, families, aged care workers and organisations to recognise and nominate staff and volunteers who shine in their commitment to providing excellence in care, and show a passion for the older person as part of their everyday work.
However, there is still far more work that must be done in terms of representing the views and articulating the needs of clients and employees within the aged care sector.
“Unless things change in a way that I can’t understand or don’t yet appreciate, we’re never going to meet the needs,” Mr Kennett said.
Do you agree with Jeff Kennett’s remarks? How do you envision your organisation taking on a greater leadership role in the representation of your clients and employees in the years ahead?