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Growing old in Australia is a difficult business

Gillian Bouras |  06 October 2015

I recently had a significant birthday, and was back visiting Melbourne, my native city. I don't feel aged or decrepit, but there's no doubt I've reached the point at which a person's fancy heavily turns to thoughts of the future, such as it might be. Discounted, at any rate, with time dwindling fast.

Older hand clasped by youngerMy children are concerned about my old age, I think, and are probably wondering whether I'm going to spend it in Greece or Australia. I always thought I'd return to Melbourne, but at present I'm not so sure. As a young child I lived with my grandparents, and therefore assumed that the concept of three-generation living was natural; now half my life has been lived in Greece, so I am used to the idea that old people live and die at home in the bosom of the family.

Not that I want this for myself. But nor do I want too much of the struggle and regret Disraeli famously mentioned.

So during my return I made it my business to learn a little about changes being made in the area and practice of aged care: I am struck by the resemblance between people in power in Australia, and those deciding policy in Brussels during the long years of the Greek krisi and concomitant austerity.

Both groups seem to be run by accountants manqué, whose chief interest is in cutting costs. The human cost does not seem to be a consideration.

The internet inevitably has a large amount of material about the latest complicated developments in Australian aged care reform. I had read only a smallish amount of this material when I felt a rant coming on. What has happened to the general mindset? To compassion? What has happened to the English language?

Well, I know the dehumanising rot began to set in a long time ago. I have a vision of George Orwell sitting on a cloud and wringing his hands in renewed horror, for now the business model and associated language appears to have taken over the world.

Internet articles bristle with words like gateway, package, providers, key stakeholders, consumer empowered models, and expanded service finders. The reader is also informed that there is to be an exciting shift from a menu style aged care system ... 

But some people are not excited at all. Charmaine Crowe, senior advisor to the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants' Association of NSW, says aged care has become more expensive because of the changes, and is now very much a business geared to making profits.

In another document older people express their concern and despair in no uncertain terms: one woman says suicide appears to be her only option.

The matter of telephone screening is of particular concern. In the past community workers have been able to make enquiries on behalf of individuals. Now they can't, because direct contact is required. Some professionals would like administrators to show more empathy, to imagine being someone who doesn't like the phone, is not at all tech savvy, and has little English, despite being in the country for 50 or more years.

Another difficulty is that many of these calls are outsourced to the Philippines or India. The people there may be well-trained, but they cannot hope to understand particular problems associated with an unfamiliar environment.

These views are echoed by those of Helena Kyriazopoulos, president of the Multicultural Communities Council of South Australia. She says a recent survey found that 86 per cent of people of various origins attending day care centres rely very heavily on community workers. Now she fears that accessing the impersonal Gateway will be impossible for many, who will then become increasingly isolated.

In short, the changes in aged care could be counterproductive, as the aims of streamlined access and equity may result instead in the development of barriers and more inequity. Growing old clearly means more hard work, and more adjustment.

The whole business is not for sissies, as I remind myself, ruefully. Again.

Gillian Bouras

Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.



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Submitted comments

Ageing is always hard. But bureaucrats and accountants lead the country. Compassion is so hard to find. Respect is also not given. Please look after our older folk as they have lived a harder life than the youth of today.

Noeline 07 October 2015

I could not agree more... Health and ageing cannot be measured with numbers, audits, reviews etc. So very well presented!!

Dimitri B 07 October 2015

Thank you Mrs Bouras. But you may have seen only the half of it. For more than 2 years I have had all the help I could want from Community Services, decided by a coordinator and myself. Old age is long and uncomfortable but with that help could be enjoyed. Now I have to "manage my account". I used to pay a very reasonable fixed amount fortnightly. Now I pay a lot more for less service and can choose what services I want which means that I have to know how much money and what services are available in my account. I DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT. I am 84 and need less, not more, clutter in my head and previously that was all taken care of The missing word in all the changes is CARE.

Mahdi 07 October 2015

calls outsourced to India and Phillpines? well-trained? at following the script- press repeat. Anyone who's wanted to do something different with their mobile phone can see why that lady mentioned suicide. Alas, statistically, we ladies are not good at sucessful suicide - something about leaving a good looking corpse some shrink says, in my case lack of faith any method would work properly and dread that by the time its really needed I'd be not strong or agile enough to make it work. (Maybe why some famous smart people in history do it round 65.) Oh, and some lack of intestinal fortitude.

Jillian 08 October 2015

If the measure of how far and how successfully a society has evolved is how well it cares for its weakest members, we seem to have a long way to go.

Jena Woodhouse 08 October 2015

I agree that the rhetoric from the Govt is often about financial impact and costs of aged care. However having been in the aged care industry for 20 years, there are many caring and committed approved providers and care staff in aged care that makes one proud to be part of the industry. Denise 09 October 2015

Denise Tomaras 09 October 2015

A thoroughly excellent article, Gillian. I wish it had been published somewhere like 'The Australian' because it needs to be read by as many stakeholders as possible in that continuing debate we should be having as to what direction our society seems to be moving in and whether we need to do something to alter that course. Orwellian Newspeak and the sheer difficulty of getting appropriate information quickly, simply and efficiently would deter many people who want to find out about their, their relatives' or friends' aged care options. Mental health in our age group is another topic which should be more openly discussed. I can understand why many do consider the suicide option. The Big Blue website has excellent information on both these topics. We don't need more mature age suicides. There is a more sinister side to the rather cold accounting vision of the provision of aged care services and that is the encouragement in certain quarters for voluntary suicide to be made more easily available. I find that quite horrifying. This whole topic re-raises the question as to whether we are still a sane and civilised society. I wonder.

Edward Fido 12 October 2015

Yes indeed I found that entering the aged care world with my mother was like going down the rabbit hole. Nothing made sense, thee were inadequate numbers of staff with inadequate skills, nobody was complying with legislation legislation, her weight and other issues were not being properly monitored, her needs were not met, GPs who visited the facilities were only interested in getting house call fees and doing as little as possible and this was one of the better quality places.

Tania 12 October 2015

Australia could do with a few less bean counters. We need to look after the elderly. We owe them a lot.

Stephen 15 October 2015

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