Caring for Our Elders

I don’t know where the last two months have gone. October and most of November have just flown by taking all my good blogging intentions with them. 2022 is feeling a little like 2020. Remember 2020? The first Covid year. At the end of 2020 we were so glad to get to the end of that year and see it in our rear vision mirror. For us, 2022 will be the same. Since May, when Paul’s mum died, it has been one thing after another.

In June we got Covid. Our family reunion in Adelaide for my mother’s 80th birthday was ambushed by Covid and cancelled flights. My sister-in-law, a very active and fit person, developed long-covid and is still quite sick nearly four months later. Other family members have also been going through a tough time with one thing or another. Bec said that it felt like our whole family life had just exploded. Running throughout all of this has been growing concerns about our ageing parents.

I am actually writing this from my parent’s study in Adelaide. I flew down from Queensland at the beginning of this week to have a few weeks helping Mum to sort out aged care stuff. My parents are both in their eighties now, and Dad is needing an increased level of care, which up to this point has been solely provided by Mum. Unfortunately we all live interstate and it is proving quite difficult to support them through this process and organise things from a distance. Assistance over the phone and internet can only go so far. Sometimes you just need to be there, on the ground, to accompany them to appointments and assist in the navigation of the aged care system.

My sister is a nurse and one of her nursing buddies works in aged care and she said that you needed a PhD to be able to navigate the system. She’s not wrong. I thought navigating NDIS was bad enough, but aged care seems to be at least on an even par, if not worse. We all know how poorly paid aged care workers are and about the appalling conditions of aged care homes that have been exposed throughout covid and a royal commission. The way our society treats its elderly citizens leaves a lot to be desired. Is this the way we treat our aged?

For quite some time now we have known about the respected and honourable position in which Elders are held in the Indigenous community and I think there is a lot we can learn. In traditional times, Elders were pivotal in ensuring the health and wellbeing of their community. They passed on the stories, culture and indigenous knowledge to the younger generations. They were also there to provide encouragement, guidance and counselling for any member going through a difficult time. It is still the same today, where they continue to be recognised for their “vital role in indigenous culture.” Being an Elder, though, is about much more than just age. According to the Indigenous Teaching website, an Aboriginal Elder is “someone who has gained recognition as a custodian of knowledge and lore, and who has permission to disclose knowledge and beliefs” and “age alone doesn’t necessarily mean that one is recognised as an Elder.” Wisdom and knowledge, and experience too, are the qualities that are especially valued in Indigenous Elders. One of the most important things that I think we can learn from the Indigenous way is that caring for each other is a shared obligation that carries across generations. Whether one has been specially recognised as an Elder or not, a member of the extended family or the wider community, every member is still deserving of respect, dignity and care and those cross-generational relationships enrich everyone’s lives.

What do we do with the senior members of our community? We put them in an old peoples home and forget about them. We ignore them, disrespect them and treat them without any sense of dignity. We all end up the poorer for this.

For lots of reasons, our elderly may not have family members close by to provide daily assistance, but our interconnection as community members should go way beyond genetic lines. Truth be told, we are all probably related somewhere back in the dark ages. We should have the same care and respect for any older person as if they were our own grandmother or grandfather or aunt, uncle, cousin and so on and the way that we care for our seniors should reflect this.

Our aged care system is incredibly complicated to understand. I have spoken to many people in the same situation and they all say the same thing – how difficult it has been to wade through all the information and paperwork just to end up on a waiting list. I honestly don’t know how they expect elderly people to be able to understand and do this all on their own. Sometimes, trying to get a little help in the home is the first time many Australians have engaged with any kind of care system, and it takes a bit to understand the mind set needed. Coming from my experience with the NDIS, you need to understand how to answer the questions, or as many elderly are finding, you end up with nothing. It shouldn’t be this hard.

In recent times we have come a long way with how we treat and support people with disabilities. We need to pay the same kind of attention to how we treat our aged so that every member of our community can lead lives feeling respected and valued.

For further reading:

Indigenous Teaching

What role does an Elder have in Indigenous Communities?

What Indigenous Communities can Teach Us about Respecting Our Elders

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6 thoughts on “Caring for Our Elders

  1. Totally agree, economics seems to replace empathy where government decision making is concerned and what kind of society does that leave us with. Older people always play down their needs, this should be so much easier and based more on empathy and respect.

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    • Sometimes I wonder if it is a generational thing, whether our older generations have grown up without the same level of support that we expect. One of the first battles is convincing them that they do need some help and that it is okay to ask for help. Perhaps we’ll be exactly the same. But the system could be a lot easier to navigate and assessors should know that older people will underestimate the level of support that they need or the amount of care they are providing for their partners. And too much reliance on using a digital platform can be a significant barrier too. It does make you wonder about those who don’t have anyone to advocate on their behalf.

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    • Thanks, yes we are all getting older and aged care seems to be one of those areas that has been overlooked for too long. And maybe we don’t think about it until it’s our family, our friends or ourselves. I have been encouraged to see more news articles about Dementia recently. The more we speak about these things, the more we de-stigmatise them and create the understanding that any one of us could be facing that diagnosis in the future, the more we generate respect. It always comes back to how would we like to be treated, and therefore do unto others.

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      • I’ve just had a friend who suffered a medical episode whilst driving and has caused a lot of damage to two homes. He hasn’t suffered a scratch and has no memory of the accident. After a month in hospital they have discharged him. He has lost his license and the car is a write off and he has just been left to flounder : can’t get to shops, banks, doctors. How much time do I give ? It’s a big one and it will affect us all.

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      • That’s terrible! No family? Governments really do exploit unpaid carers, just expecting family and friends to provide untold hours of support. It always comes back to economics – how much are we as a society prepared to pay to provide care and support for the vulnerable. There possibly is some support program available for your friend, but you can bet it will be complicated to access and there will be a waiting list. Thing is, you have to find these things out for yourself.

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