I have attended 2 functions this week which were dealing with the way older people are treated, in very different ways. One was  research from two universities, the other by people researching care both in the community and in residential care. The different contributors showed very different approaches.

The two University studies were about intergenerational interaction. The first proudly described a project in which children’s play areas are built near aged care facilities. I got the impression that the older people had not even been consulted. Given that some older people, particularly the fragile, do not like boisterous children around them, I felt that this is very much a ‘client’ program.

The second study was from the University of Queensland. It linked older native foreign language speakers, in this case Chinese, with students in years 11 and 12 who are learning this language. It meant that the students heard the language from native speakers and also learned about their culture. For their part the older people felt that their lives were suddenly more meaningful. They had an important purpose in their lives. A win/win for both groups.

The second function united researchers looking at assistance for older people, with older people using these services, particularly those living in the community. It provides a link between the bureaucrats and the customers or clients. One person in the group objected to these words, pointing out that we are actually ‘people’.

The main problem in Australia seems to be the ability of older people to access information, finding out what help is available. Given that home care is much cheaper than nursing home care it is a major problem. There were complaints about telephones not being answered, and web sites that were hard to use. This is easily blamed on the lack of computer knowledge on the part of older people, not considering that it may actually be a problem. From my own limited experience the fault lies with the on-line programmes which are usually very badly written, making them inaccessible. As long as older people, not the programmes, are being blamed little is likely to change.

Some of the comments described older people who needed help showering at home having to wait long hours, in one case until 5pm, for the provider to arrive. Another was of a newly arrived resident in a nursing home being told to go to bed at 7.30pm. She protested that this was not her custom. She was told she had to because they all had to be in bed before the carer could end her shift and go home. The carer settled the impasse by turning the light off. This was appallingly dangerous. Let’s not rush to blame the carer. The fault is with management which created this rule. There are so many stories of inadequately trained, uncaring management it is time such problems were addressed. Where management in any workforce situation does have the necessary knowledge and attitude, sick days and staff turnover are greatly reduced. It is more profitable!

Meanwhile the voices of older people must be heard in any situation in which we are involved. We are people! Such an attitude creates a better, more efficient, happier  and cost-effective world for all involved.