This year has been one of the hardest of my life.
That’s a big call given my life has been far from easy.
In the past 30 years I raised two beautiful kids aged 3 & 7 into fine young adults now 21 and 25. I have reinvented and restarted my career at least 5 times from media to politics to NGO and government to my landing place of startup, tech, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Clearly I love a challenge, I thrive on complexity and working on solving problems.
Despite the fact that I dedicated a decade to developing ageing policy, and was very well aware of the challenges as people age, I never really stopped to think of the later life period where stuff really starts to happen and realities need to be discussed and decisions need to made.
This year has been hardest because I have had to see my parents go from strong independent people to people who are needing to come to terms with needing and accepting care. It all started 5 years ago when my dad fell and broke his hip. He never fully recovered from that and there was never enough rehab to help him get back on his feet with dignity. It is like the system doesn’t value older people enough to provide the very necessary intensive therapy and rehabilitation required to get older people back on their feet.
This has been the biggest failure for my dad – he never got the early intervention and now 5 years on he has general weakness and was unable to stand up and walk. A week ago he was hospitalised for the 3rd or 4th time this year and basically some specialist told him to stop going to rehab (one day a week for a session) as he was not improving, this action resulted in dad losing confidence in his capacity and worth and in dad’s muscles weakening.
Despite strong advocacy from our family at every hospital discharge, we ultimately failed to realise that we should have been more forceful in asking about the therapy or rehab program and ultimately providing additional therapy privately to supplement the limited offer of half an hour here and there. Dad will be going to rehab and this time we have asked for a program in advance so we can rethink the options available. We learnt the hard way that we have to be vigilant.
Same with Mum she has had two falls and a month later she has been sent a physio once a week for an hour to give her exercises. Can you imagine being 86 and being hospitalised for a fall and sent home without a plan for immediate rehabilitation? I don’t get it because mum has been really timid since her fall and won’t go out alone. Thank goodness she has strong will to improve and my brother, my kids and I take her out to give her a break from caring for dad and hospital visits. Mum and dad are really lucky because they have great neighbours and a good network of friends that call her and visit occasionally as they too have their ageing challenges.
I have always advocated for ageing in place so this year has been applying for Aged Care Assessments, arranging care providers and the ongoing challenge to support my parents to stay at home as long as possible. The biggest challenge has been to stay focused and positive in the face of my parents hospitalisations, diminishing capacity and increasing care needs.
The greatest flaw in the system is lack of rehabilitation. Maybe the health system isn’t the best place for older people, maybe they need a rehabilitation & wellbeing centre that offers 5 hours a day of therapy, classes, exercises so older people can be supported to strengthen their bodies & be able to live as independently as possible. Like the film the Old Marigold Hotel converted to a retirement hotel, or start cruise liners as floating retirement and rehabilitation and wellbeing activities.
When you are frequent flyers in hospital you meet other families, the ward is full of older people who keep returning to hospital and frustrated generation x and baby boomers trying to navigate the system and come to terms with our own not to distant future. Oh and the system expects that you are doing this full time.
Make no mistake this ageing parents thing is huge and it is a multi generational challenge
So I believe ageing in place and the care provided definitely needs a rethink – we are not so far from that time ourselves & it’s time we start to think about and create the future we want – it is really up to us and watching my parents I know I do not want to experience my later life in this way – I would seriously rather be on a cruise ship sailing the Pacific than sitting in a hospital.
How about you?
Here is a short survey a friend is doing for those of us caring for ageing parents to help identify the key pain points in caring. Please take the survey and share it among your networks.
Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in collaboration, innovation, change and disruption. She is an honorary Associate of the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, UTS.
Anne-Marie is on the Board of Vibewire; SparkFestival; Western Sydney Women; the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation; Autism Advisory Board, and the Settlement Services International Foundation.
Photo credit Paul Shetler