National Plan to Address Elder Abuse

Following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission Report on Elder Abuse handed down in June 2017 a national plan to offset elder abuse is currently being developed by federal and state governments.  Nationally consistent laws to respond to elder abuse are among the key goals that also include:

  • promoting the autonomy and agency of older people;
  • addressing ageism and promoting community understanding of elder abuse;
  • safeguarding at-risk older people and improving responses;
  • building the evidence basis.

I have spoken about elder abuse in past blogs.  Due to my role as an Aged Care Placement Consultant I work closely with elderly people and their families and have, at times, been aware of this taking place. so I was pleased to see the ALRC report and recommendations delivered last year.  The development of a national plan from these recommendations, that is expected in draft version by the end of this year, will be very welcome.

Attorney-General Christian Porter stated at the recent National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney that the national plan would bring government, business and community stakeholders together to properly address this critical issue. He told the audience that addressing elder abuse was not just a legal issue so attorneys-general would work together with ministers from health, community services and other portfolios to develop the plan; in consultation with the community sector, seniors, business and financial sectors.

Meanwhile Victoria is the first state to develop its own action plan, launched this February. The Elder Abuse Community Action Plan for Victoria was developed by the National Ageing Research Institute, supported by Seniors Rights Victoria, the Office of Public Advocate and community service providers. It sets out 10 priorities to address elder abuse:

  • Clarify the relationship between family violence and elder abuse.
  • Raise community awareness of elder abuse and promote a positive image of older people to reduce ageism.
  • Increase availability of “older person centred” alternatives to disclosing elder abuse.
  • Standardise tools for recognising abuse and develop and implement a common framework for responding to elder abuse.
  • Increase availability of family (elder) mediation services including for people living in rural areas and CALD communities.
  • Provide education and training on elder abuse for all health professionals in health and aged care services.
  • Improve data and increase evaluation.
  • Clarify whether carer stress is a risk factor for elder abuse.
  • Improve understanding and response to elder abuse in CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • Improve housing options for both perpetrators and victims of elder abuse.

Aged Care Future Planning Paid Off

Caroline and Billy

Last week I wrote a blog about future planning for aged care. For Billy and Caroline it paid off. With my help they planned for the day they would move to an aged care facility. Caroline and Billy received an offer from their chosen facility last week, and have gladly accepted it.

Initially they were hesitant to consider moving from their home, despite encouragement to plan for this from both their family and doctor. When I was referred to them in April/May last year they decided to explore the possibilities with my help. Caroline had concerns for the short term that she may need to go to hospital and her husband Billy cannot be left on his own. In the long term they wanted to be together and share a suite. I recommended they get their financials in order so they would be prepared, and referred them to a Financial Planner.  We decided to begin searching in their local area for suitable accommodation.

They continued to manage reasonably well at home with services and assistance from their family until late last year when Caroline needed hospitalisation for a few days. Interim care was arranged for Billy at home but when Caroline had complications and had to stay in hospital longer, I found emergency respite for Billy in one of the homes we had initially visited.  The family were very pleased with the care Billy received but for Caroline it was not the facility where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

Once Caroline and Billy returned home, she called a family meeting, which I attended, and informed her family that she had decided that it was time for her and Billy to make the transition to permanent residential care. She felt that, should there be another crisis, she did not want this undue pressure put on her family again. They had decided on Kew Gardens Aged Care, so I contacted the facility and asked for their application to be moved from waiting to urgent. Within two months a suite became available. They chose the Kew Gardens aged care facility because it is right across the road from their present home and they already have friends residing there.  Set on the edge of beautiful Kew Gardens, it is aptly named and has a pleasing outlook. They will move shortly. I am so pleased that this transition will be far less stressful for them ,due to their taking action and forward planning. I was happy to assist them in their planning and take pride in doing the best for my clients.

Future Plan Is The Best Way To Care For Parents on The “Tightrope of Aging”

Modern facility lounge

Making the decision to move from the home that you know and in which you have invested so much of yourself is always difficult, no matter at what stage of life you make it.  When you are elderly and no longer capable of caring for yourself it is even more so. There are so many emotional reactions to the idea – reluctance to leave the comfort of your own home, sadness at leaving behind friends or family, fear of an unknown environment, not wanting to be a burden and shame at no longer being able to care for yourself. A book called “Holding the Net: Caring for My Mother on the Tightrope of Aging” by Melanie P Merriman published late last year explores the difficulties faced by two daughters whose ageing mother is fiercely independent and does not want “to be a burden” to her children. They enter a tug of war where their mother fights for her independence whilst they fight for her safety.

The ultimate conclusion Melanie draws is that the discussion about her mother’s future needs and the best way to meet them should have been held early on and a future plan decided upon with all parties in agreement. She realised too late that trying to adhere to her mother’s desire “not to be a burden” actually caused the problems that did become burdensome to Melanie and her sister.

Being at the coalface of this type of situation myself, as an Aged Care Placement Specialist, I often see how difficult the decision to move a parent to an aged care facility can be. Trying to find a suitable place at short notice when a parent has a serious fall or their health seriously deteriorates is very stressful. I strongly advocate that families discuss their elderly parent’s future needs with them in an honest and open way before a crisis occurs. Setting up a future plan for elderly parents in which they feel empowered and involved in the decision making will reduce a great deal of stress if the time comes when they need the added level of care that an aged care facility can provide.

With the depth of knowledge I have of the different aged care facilities, current legislation and the processes involved, I have been able to assist people to set up their future plans. It is always my pleasure to help people find the best option for their later years, where they will feel at home and enjoy their lifestyle.

Improving the Experience of LGBTI People in Aged Care

It is encouraging to see the government moving toward improved aged care services for Australian Seniors. As the government engages with the aged care sector on the development of longer-term reform, they are already taking steps to help improve the experience of elderly LGBTI people entering aged care facilities.

The department’s website MyAgedCare now has a range of resources for providers to help them better accommodate the needs of LGBTI people.  They incude:

  • A 24 minute educational video on LGBTI inclusiveness in aged care
  • A consumer factsheet providing an overview of aged care services available and how to access them, specifically for the LGBTI community
  • A brochure with ‘10 questions to ask about LGBTI needs in residential aged care’.

These resources can be downloaded from the department’s website.

I have written in previous blogs about the difficulties faced by LGBTI people entering aged care facilities. Some sad stories reflect on the lack of understanding of their needs, such as facilities that would not recognize a person’s chosen gender rather than that shown on their birth certificate. Imagine being born male, then bravely living your life as a woman only to be made to live as a man and use male facilities in your old age upon entering aged care accommodation. As an advocate for the elderly, in my role as an Aged Care Placement Consultant, I have met people who have had to face these difficulties.

I therefore embrace the stance taken by the government to improve the experience of LGBTI people entering an aged care facility.  I sincerely hope that Australian aged care facilities will continue to improve their understanding and so provide the right support and appropriate accommodation to elderly residents within this group.

Aged Care Workforce Taskforce and Technology Support Improvements in Aged Care

Ken Wyatt, Minister for Aged Care

The government is taking the care of elderly Australians seriously with the development of the Aged Care Workplace Taskforce, announced on November 1st. It is tasked with developing a wide-ranging workforce strategy, focused on supporting safe, quality aged care for senior Australians.

“Everything is on the table but there are only two things that matter, safety and quality,” Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM, said. Despite reservations from the Australian Nurses & Midwives Federation that frontline professionals had been excluded from the Taskforce, the Minister assured that the Taskforce would consult widely, reaching out to senior Australians and their families, consumer organisations, informal carers, aged care workers and volunteers as well as unions, health professionals, universities and the health, education, employment and disability sectors.

“With Australia’s current aged care staffing needs predicted to grow from around 360,000 currently to almost one million by 2050, workforce issues are vital to the quality ongoing care of older Australians.” he added. New thinking and a strong pathway for professional careers in aged care are outcomes the Minister is keen to see as a result of the Taskforce findings and recommendations.

Meantime a state-of-the-art residential aged care facility in Austral, Western Sydney is leading the way in the use of technology to support residents’ safety and wellbeing.

Opening the John Edmondson VC Gardens centre recently, Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt AM said the innovations would help empower residents and staff.

“Technology will never replace the dedication and service of trusted care and health professionals but it can support them to provide even better and more efficient care,” Minister Wyatt said at the opening, encouraging other aged care facilities to consider using similar innovations.

The new centre, operated by RSL LifeCare, includes:

    • Bedroom laser beam, floor sensor and trip light technology to alert staff
    • Sensors that monitor and report on residents’ locations
    • A smart medication management system to maximise medication safety
    • Access to health specialists through video conferencing
    • A virtual reality social program providing animal therapy through a friendly robotic pet called Seals

My observations of the Aged Care facilities, as I visit and recommend suitable accommodation to my clients, is that many of them have great programs, comfortable and even upmarket accommodation, caring staff and a safe environment but there is a wide range of standards between different facilities.  I, therefore, support any improvements to the care of our elderly citizens, whether through government legislation and guidelines or through innovative initiatives by the facilities themselves.


Exploring The Effect Of Music on Creative Ageing


Music as therapy in aged care will be examined for the effect it has on creativity and resilience in ageing by Professor Andrea Creech, a professor in music education at the Université Laval in Canada, at the International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney from 30 October to 1st November. Held at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, the overarching theme of the conference is “Mental Health and Resilience through the Arts”.

Andrea makes the point that society recognises the human need to be cared for and to belong, but often forgets how important it is for people to make a contribution, to feel valued and to be creative. “Music builds resilience, is cognitively engaging and is associated with lasting effects on brain plasticity, as well as with non-musical brain functions, such as language and attention.” she said “but perhaps the most important point is that making music is both social and communicative and is strongly related to sustaining a sense of who we are.”

Music has been used for people with dementia to great effect, as it has been found that music triggers an emotional response, tied to a memory.  Emotions and memory work side by side, so when music from a particular era is played it will often trigger memories of the person’s past that they have long forgotten.

Pete McDonald, who works full-time as a registered music therapist at Hammond Care and other aged care services in NSW, always finishes his workshop series with a public concert to which the family and friends of the participants are invited. He ensures participants are involved physically in music making, playing instruments and singing. He told Australian Ageing Agenda “Not only do we see the benefits in the social and cognitive realms, but also physical health benefits such as improved lung capacity.”

I find it heartening to hear that Professor Creech believes “It is entirely possible, given the opportunity and support, to be creative at any age”, but she then questions whether enough opportunities are provided for this. As an Aged Care Placement Consultant I regularly inspect aged care facilities and I always look for positive activities such as music workshops for my clients. It is clear that creative therapies, such as music, are positive on many levels and society’s attitude to older people need to change to allow this expression. One way is through intergenerational activity, and music is a great vehicle.


Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Conference in Melbourne

The 17th Alzheimer’s Australia Biennial National Dementia Conference is being held in Melbourne right now from 17th to 20th October. The title of the Conference is “ Be The Change” – the conference aims to inspire delegates to explore more innovative and creative ways to improve the quality of life and support of people, of all ages, living with all forms of dementia. Being very involved in the aged care sector, as an Aged Care Placement Consultant, I look forward to the ongoing changes and improvements as a result of this conference.

I was very impressed by the great line up of Keynote Speakers that include:

 Dr. Susan Koch, who is currently involved in a project to develop an Australian Community of Practice in Research in Dementia (ACcORD) to improve health outcomes for people with dementia and their carers; Professor Sam Gandy, an international expert in the metabolism of the sticky substance called amyloid that clogs the brain in people living with Alzheimer’s disease; Naomi Feil, developed the now world renowned Validation method and has written two books and numerous articles on the method; Scientia Prof Henry Brodaty AO, one of the world’s leading researchers in dementia, a clinician, policy advisor and a strong advocate for people living with dementia and their carers and Ita Buttrose, National Ambassador of Alzheimer’s Australia, having served as National President from 2011-14, and a former Australian of the Year (2013), she has had a long interest in health and ageing.


Dr. Piers Dawes from the University of Manchester is giving the Libby Harrick’s Memorial Oration. Dr. Dawes oration explores the relationship between hearing impairment and cognition, looking at the implications for hearing loss as a biomarker for cognitive well-being and also as a causal contributor to cognitive decline and poor quality of life in older age.

At the Conference research, being jointly undertaken by the University of Melbourne, Dementia Australia and Assistance Dogs Australia, on the affect of assistance dogs on people with early onset dementia was discussed. The research so far has shown that assistance dogs help to relieve loneliness, anxiety and depression for their owners with early onset dementia and gives them the experience of responsible dog ownership. Another bonus is the help they give to carers and family by providing the extra support. This research continues until next year.  I look forward to seeing the final research findings which may be of help to some of my clients who are seeking suitable aged care accommodation.