Next week I make the trip to one of our coastal towns to present a paper at a conference for people who work in the area of aged care and researchers in the field. I always enjoy mixing with the former group. It is hardly surprising that they are an extremely caring and fun-loving group of people given the often not very pleasant tasks they frequently have to undertake. A major downside of ageing is that as we get older we often lose our ability to control our body functions and we may not be competent to clear up the mess ourselves. These are the wonderful people who cheerfully step in and do it for us.

Many years ago I put myself through uni by working in a private mental hospital in the holidays. On my first day I was asked to help one of the nurses to clean up an elderly lady who had had an accident in the night. As we eased her into the bath my own stomach was reacting and I asked the nurse how long it took to get used to this. She just said cheerfully, as her cap floated in the bath among the debris, “You never do”. What interested me was that the elderly lady belonged to one of the richest families in the world. Their money enabled her to live in a private room but couldn’t spare her from anything else, including the dementia which had taken over her life.

One of the reasons I enjoy speaking to, and mixing with, these aged care workers is that their work can make such a difference to our lives as we get older. I don’t think they realise how important their work is, particularly as they are often paid less than their counterparts in mainstream hospitals, which is usually a measure of how society values work. The public servants who sit in offices earning large salaries and who determine aged care policy seem to have little knowledge of the reality of the situation. I recently came across the expression ‘Consumer Directed Care’ which I think is the new title for the service which provides care for people who can still manage, with help, to live in their own homes. This is disgusting  ‘publicservicespeak’ and is not something the clients, older people, can relate to. It is hardly surprising that initial research into the effectiveness of this new approach is that there has been no improvement in outcomes but a rise in anxiety among the recipients of the service. If those providing the service, and older people, had been asked, we would have come up with a more user-friendly approach and hence an improvement in the results.

I guess we will just have to be patient until the large salary earning public servants realise that they don’t have the answers. In the meantime public money isn’t being used as effectively as it should and the lives of so many older people aren’t as rich as they could be. What a waste all round. Meanwhile I’ll go and enjoy the company of these wonderful people.