A more inclusive society…

Valuing the older person

Mental illness is more prevalent in aged care facilities than among the general public, but it was only a few years ago that psychological services were offered to residents of these facilities. 

Today, Better Place Australia provides free psychological support to 120 aged care facilities across Victoria. Through this service, we have seen how our aged care system diminishes the older person’s ability to make independent decisions regarding their care and lifestyle. 

In many instances, the older person is forced to adapt to a highly constricted and structured life in an aged care facility. This begs two big questions – is there enough opportunity for older people to make their own decisions about their life, and is the element of self determination valued in the system? 

We also found that a dismissive attitude towards the older person’s needs does not just exist within the aged care system but in society at large. The driver of this attitude is ageism – a collective social and cultural prejudice against older people that causes them to be abused, marginalised and dismissed. As the least known form of discrimination, ageism is more pervasive and socially accepted than sexism or racism. 

Ending the scourge of ageism 

Better Place Australia is among the funders of the Framing Age Messaging Guide, developed by a consortium of multi-agency Elder Abuse Prevention Networks (EAPNs). 

The consortium is led by Southern Melbourne Primary Care Partnership, Eastern Community Legal Centre, Merri Health and Barwon Community Legal Service. The guide aims to promote a better understanding of how to talk about age, ageing and issues affecting older people without resorting to ageist attitudes, stereotypes and behaviours. 

After the guide was published, BPA collaborated with Southern Melbourne Elder Abuse Prevention Network (SMEAPN) on a social media campaign to support and spread the message. Part of our ongoing work in this space also involves championing social inclusion among the older generation by embracing the diversity of ageing, recognising their continued contribution and removing barriers to their participation in society. 

A dignified transition to aged care 

A recent survey of almost 6,000 Australians over 50 indicated an opposition to, and distrust of, the aged care system. This was particularly applicable to aged care facilities. 

Our anecdotal evidence suggests that many older people living in residential care typically entered because of hospitalisation and never returned home. In other words, residential aged care was not a choice but a necessity. 

Circumstances often prevented the older person from preparing for this transition which eventually took a toll on their mental, physical, and emotional health. Unfortunately, this outcome has become so normalised that it is assumed to be a natural part of the transition. 

The older person’s journey into supported care cannot continue this way. The biggest change that needs to happen is ensuring the older person retains their dignity and autonomy during the difficult transition from independent living into an aged care facility. This means involving them in every conversation and decision on the matter. It is a small shift that will make a massive difference. 

A long but important road ahead 

Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us in this sector. There are many gaps to plug within the system and many issues to tackle in the public space. 

Our elder abuse prevention service is helping many survivors, but equally important is our work in encouraging every Victorian to think about how they can reduce ageism and create a more inclusive society for people of all ages. 


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