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The Quarterly 2011


Media Release Commentary

Media Release Minister for Ageing announces the launch of Virtual Visiting, Dec 2008view pdf file

Although this announcement is not all that recent, it does raise a very serious issue. That is the looming and extremely detrimental isolation of old people, especially those living at home through much of their old age.

The story in the media report is a charming example of a successful connection between the old lady and her grandchildren, it's a lovely story, and shows how available technology can keep alive family connections when there is the common problem of geographical separation.

More insidious is the big 'sleeper' issue that ageing 'baby boomers' will face, when they advance through their old age. A very large proportion of this very large cohort of people who will live very much longer than any preceding generation - will be in their own homes, supported by the rapidly expanding community aged services. This will be both by choice and economic necessity.

On the one hand, members of this generation have high expectations of making up their own minds, and many will not go to nursing homes until the last possible moment, if at all. Community based care arrangements can now support very dependent people in their own homes for those who used to have to go into residential aged care.

On the other hand, Government is coming to grips with the fact that the current residential aged care system will not be affordable in a decade or so, certainly not in the 'mainstream' way in which it exists today. Community services will continue to expand, and assist more and older people stay at home. This is much cheaper for the public purse, and is more desirable to older people. As nobody wants to voluntarily leave his or her home, independence and control over life.

However, unless we proceed very carefully, we are creating a whole generation of very old people, isolated at home, dependant on visiting paid care-givers, and often separated from family. Their isolation increases with advancing age, as they become more physically, mentally and emotionally dependent, and lose all their social connections. They face loneliness, depression, and dreadful misery.

We must join with government planning departments, architects, town planners, developers, urban designers, community builders, and their ilk, to deliberately build suitable, appropriate and desirable housing in the heart of communities for older people, and increase community capacity to ensure they are included as valuable participants.

Technology will help a lot, but it's only part of the solution. Successful very old age depends on community and accommodation, with health and care to be provided as needed, not the other way around as it is today.

Dr Penny Flett

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