Two events have happened in my life this week which made me think that change is finally beginning to happen to recognise us older people and our needs.
Firstly I attended a meeting to discuss making end-of-life care uniform throughout Australia. This was a meeting for non-clinicians. The latter had held their meeting the day before. That would have been interesting given that presumably older people were not involved. How can you discuss quality end of life care without any patients, or prospective patients attending? But that is another story. At least they are discussing it.
Fellow participants at the meeting I was invited to were health care consumers, carers and those who had lost loved ones. Unfortunately there were too many people in the group and a lot of the time was given up to people who hadn’t yet completed the grieving process for their loved ones and used the opportunity to do this. Having inexperienced and unqualified people to run such groups doesn’t move the process to an acceptable outcome. My other criticism was the type of morning tea provided; sweet cakes. I find it quite nauseating to watch fat people stuffing 3 of them in their mouths. Is the Department of Health the last to learn that the nation suffers from a huge obesity problem? Shouldn’t they be setting a good example?
Before I leave this topic I recommend the book ‘Dying for a Chat’ by Dr Ranjana Srivastava which gives an excellent description of the current scary and wasteful procedures used in end of life care.
My second meeting was with a couple of nurse educators who are bringing care of the elderly into the course for first year nurses. They are starting from the premise that 18 year olds may not have had experience with older people, don’t understand us and have no desire to work in this field. Given that there will be an increasing need for staff in aged care in the future this is ground-breaking work. I hope that the method they are trialling works and will be accepted world-wide. At least it is tackling one of the most important areas of ageism and elder abuse. In recent years we have had court cases involving neglect of patients in nursing homes and one nurse imprisoned for setting fire to the home he worked in and killing many of the residents. These are extreme cases but what happens beneath the surface that we don’t know about? Many residents of nursing homes are incapable of speaking out or too afraid to do so. At least if we can teach staff employed in this area that ageing is not too bad and that one day they too will be old we can make a positive contribution to this field.
Meanwhile we need to convince the Minister for Health that he needs to take a greater interest in what his departmental staff are doing. The last attempt to achieve in the field of death and dying, creating a national ‘Living Will’ document, ended in failure. It’s good to know that at ground level others are making a valuable contribution.