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Increasing retirement age will cost the budget

  • 06 May 2015

Treasurer Joe Hockey is keen for us to work as long as possible. The government’s aim is to keep the hands of ageing workers and would be retirees out of its pension pot.

And many, including Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, are keen to extoll the virtues of employers hiring older workers. At a recent Wheeler Centre panel, she listed some of the benefits of older people working.

These include employers gaining experienced workers, employees having a sense of worth and wellbeing, as well as making a positive contribution to an economy that has an ageing population.

However, there are aspects of employing older people which require strategic planning. These relate to the increasing number of Australians with dementia, especially Alzheimer’s. Generally workplaces do not have the policies and practices necessary to adequately deal with such realities.

This is a major concern because, as the number of people with dementia or cognitive issues increases, so too does the population of those with younger-onset dementia. And there are over 1500 cases of dementia diagnosed each week in Australia.

Like many aspects of dementia in general, and Alzheimer’s in particular, there are conversations, and education, that need to take place right across the community.

Dementia is not just an issue for the health sector. It’s a major community issue with widespread ramifications, and, as such, will require responses across the community, and that includes the workplace. Why?

Because all of us, including employers and workplaces, need to be dementia aware. We must be take dementia into account when we design buildings and jobs. This includes tasks, and how we do them as we age, as well as deciding when it’s time for someone to cease employment.

I wrote about my 88 year old mother working as a school crossing supervisor, through memory loss and the medical maze. As memory glitches became apparent, I organised medical appointments to ensure her reflexes and cognitive ability were adequate for her to do the job and ensure the safety of the school children she was responsible for. After all, many lives were in her hands.

As far as I am aware, at no point did any discussion take place between my mother and her employer about her memory or cognitive ability. I can understand why. My mother had highly developed social skills, and her interactions were usually brief, upbeat, simple conversations.

Such a willing worker could not be expected to initiate this discussion as she was