Archives for posts with tag: Continence and incontinence

There is a major issue among young women (and some young men who support them!) currently in Australia as they have discovered that the GST applies to feminine hygiene products but not to parallel men’s products. Treasurers from all our States and Territories (largely, if not completely, male) met last week to discuss financial matters and this matter was raised. No decision was taken. It’s only a small issue (except if you are a woman living below the poverty level) but should (a) not be a problem in the first place in the sense that the GST should never have been applied and (b) is yet another example of the sexist society we live in. It is only a small tax but when you add these small issues together for individuals they add up to cost and discrimination. They follow on immediately from the fact that women are not fully represented at so many levels and in so many areas, not least of which is the area of governance. We only have 2 women in the Government Cabinet, the parliamentary governing body.

So what has this got to do with ageing? Three of us ‘oldies’ went along to a rally to protest against this tax just to show our support for the discrimination they were fighting. One of the older women began to wonder if there was the same discriminatory tax on similar garments for older people. Considering that 1 in 3 older people suffer from incontinence and many are living in poverty, this becomes a big issue at least for them. It is a debilitating problem for sufferers without concerns about affordability. The next problem we had was to find out if this tax does apply to these items. A quick search on the internet was unhelpful; obviously it needed more expertise than we had. Even if we discovered that it does exist then who would help us to fight the battle ahead? We have two major organisation in Australia which purport to represent older people (and are given huge government grants to pursue this) but the trouble is that they don’t believe in employing older people so they are unaware of many of the problems which affect this age group. The government thinks that it is doing the right thing and looking after older people by giving grants to these groups but older people’s needs are often not addressed.

The ageing population is a huge problem, as the government and society is well aware, but it will continue to be so, and increasingly so, unless our voices are genuinely heard. The present system isn’t working but how we bring about change is hard to work out. Meanwhile we continue the struggle to be heard, at increasing cost to ourselves, our lifestyles and cost to the countries we live in. When will we get intelligent government?

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.

This is not something I have so far not been really involved with but I’ve just had the opportunity to be involved in a workshop and conference on it in the last 2 days. What really struck me is that those involved in this field are overwhelmingly women (nurses) and therefore have difficulty having their voices heard. Add ageism to this, meaning that we are a less important section of the community, and it is difficult to make progress.
There are quite a lot of people who want to improve on current conditions for older people who are less mobile, but lack of recognition of their views and the work they do means that they are having an uphill battle. The outcome of this is that health care costs are higher than they need be and older people in this situation are less happy, and have less satisfying lives, than necessary. To give one example to illustrate what I am talking about, I met one lady, an academic, who is interested in the problem of continence. She reckons that we should be aware of what we need to do to maintain this right from childhood. Yet I suspect that very few people are aware of this. The lack of this knowledge means that far more older people than should are faced with the very unpleasant condition of incontinence in their later years. This is both embarrassing and unpleasant. Apparently one nurse in a residential care home had been heard to say that incontinence care is easy, 3 baths a day solve the problem! Can you imagine a frail older person who has this problem being forced to strip and hauled into a bath 3 times a day? The nurse who made the comment apparently could see no problem with this solution. What a dreadful way to live the last few years of life. It is both undignified and lacks quality. It is also an expensive way to use nursing staff.
As I said at the beginning older people are of little interest, apart from complaints about the cost of keeping us, and the workers (carers) involved are women who are rarely listened to in our sexist world. Most Universities now have faculties of nursing but these don’t have anything like the prestige of economics, accountancy, law or business studies, the mostly male faculties, for example.
No matter how hard the women involved in aged care nursing try to fight for a better deal for their clients they are not on a level playing field. Those who won’t listen to them, the decision makers and politicians, may find out how wrong they are when it is too late. We are already aware that many in these latter groups suffer from dementia in their later years but unpleasant problems such as incontinence are more likely to just be hidden although those suffering from them will still suffer the unpleasantness and indignity. What a pity they didn’t listen when they could have addressed the problem for everyone and come up with the solution the nurses are suggesting.