What is the future of ageing?

I recently attended ‘The Future of Ageing’ conference run by the Arts Health Institute. It was an informative, action-packed, fun 2 days with a range of expert speakers intermingled with singing, comedy, films, and a dance performance written, choreographed, and designed by an inspiring 101 year old dancer who also performed in the show.  The underlying message and theme throughout the conference was …

a need for us to shift our attitudes towards ageing and challenge existing age stereotypes.

How?

The answer is multifaceted and complex.  There’s no doubt though that music has a big role to play.  It’s not the whole answer, however music can have an enormously positive impact on our behaviour when we are older.  A recent Catalyst program demonstrated the power of music for people in an aged care facility showing how people with dementia came alive, with one care worker commenting, “it’s better than drugs”, in terms of its positive effect on his clients’ behaviour.

I attended one of the singing workshops, where I was pleasantly surprised to also find Maggie Beer. Although I’m not a brilliant singer it was fun. And, at one of the breaks I had the opportunity to speak with researchers from the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development who told me how music ‘lights up’ the whole brain in ways most activities don’t and that neural pathways can be built to compensate for those that may no longer work.

There were also sessions that discussed the importance of giving power and control back to the individual, (‘consumer directed care’), and how this is taking place with initiatives such as ‘better caring’ which enables the client to choose the carer and vice versa. We also heard from Nick Ryan, CEO of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency. He shared how his organisation is focused on closing the gap between quality of clinical care ratings and quality of life ratings with their assessors speaking to about 50,000 residents each year about the quality of care that they receive.

And Maggie Beer?  Of course Maggie talked to us about food and the importance of this for quality of life.  As Maggie said, “Food is medicine. The food of life.” In fact Maggie has established a Foundation dedicated to improving the food experience of everyone in aged care and she has already trained numerous aged care facility chefs to produce quality food on small budgets.

Eileen Kramer is an inspiration for us all. At 101 years of age she is still performing and it was an absolute joy to watch her perform in her dance production ‘Early Ones’. Not only did she perform, she had created and choreographed the entire show, as well as handmade all the costumes!

Some of the change required is associated with the way in which we manage and care for our ageing population, including how our healthcare system functions and our facilities our managed. The good news is that the conversation has started and changes are already occurring with the NSW Minister for Ageing, Disability Services and Multiculturalism committed to funding large and small projects to involve people throughout NSW in creative programs for older people.

What’s the future of ageing?

Positive. There are numerous government, academic, not-for-profit, and private sector organisations and individuals committed to challenging existing age stereotypes with new programs, processes, initiatives, products and services, all designed to make being older a better experience than many have today.

What’s your experience? What are you doing to age well? Perhaps you’re caring for an older person … are you noticing changes in the systems, processes, and services that makes that persons life better? Let me know. I’m genuinely interested.

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