Our Elders deserve nothing less than living the life they choose for themselves. This means that our Elders have to be central in all decisions that directly or indirectly affect how they live and where they live. With experience, we have learnt that one of the consequences of ageing is reduced mobility which in turn increases dependence on others to have access to all the necessities of life. These changes can impose greater social isolation which in turn lead to increased feelings of loneliness, boredom, helplessness and depression. This knowledge has changed the way we think about aged care, it has challenged the establishment and design of aged care environments and it has led to stronger engagement with our Elders around what they really want in their elder years.
People are social beings. We need social contact and engagement to feel part of the family and the community at large. Retirement Villages and Aged Care Centres grew throughout the world in recognition of the social and care needs of Elders. Generally, these were large campuses and or buildings specifically built to deliver care. In hindsight, we recognise that these “campuses” were in of themselves isolating environments for the Elders.
Aged care today cannot continue to create these segregated environments. Today, the very best aged care environments are established to meet the social, psychological and age related care needs of our Elders whilst simultaneously providing an integrated vibrant intergenerational community that fluidly enable normal routines within the personal limitations each elder may experience as age grows.
What this means is that our retirement villages that have traditionally created a wall around a group of people all over a certain age must change! Whilst feelings of personal security are amongst the most important needs Elders have, villages and aged care homes should also strive to be no different from a normal community. There should be the comings and goings of people as they access the café, as they drop off children for the day with their grandparents, as the teachers arrive to teach at the child care centre, as people arrive to participate in the aqua aerobic classes or as people come and go from the hairdressing salon. Amid all this movement our Elders need to drive their engagement, to determine their care needs and determine how, when and by whom those needs should be met.
We should be doing this because our Elders deserve nothing less. We should be doing this because our Elders have an absolute right to have their views heard in decisions that affect the rest of their lives. None of our Elders should ever feel lonely, they should never feel bored and through strong participation in activities that they can engage in will ensure they never feel helpless. Ageing with dignity underpinned by care and respect, every elder in the world deserves this!