NEWS FROM THE DIRECTOR
Our last seminar on Ageing was a wonderful example of what we try to do in Integrated Human Studies: combine the wisdom of academia with cultural insights and practical knowledge. It was a fitting end to a series which has given us much to think about. Next year the seminars will focus on some of the large global challenges facing humans this century. We aim to draw on up-to-date academic knowledge from this campus and others.
If you can’t wait till 2010, then see below for details of a free public lecture by distinguished academic Professor Richard Hobbs on October 21. Note that you must RSVP to attend.
And if you missed the seminar on Music at the beginning of our second semester series, then you have another opportunity to gain a deep insight into the relationship between music and human wellbeing when Professor Alan Harvey gives a seminar on October 27. See below for details.
Professor Neville Bruce
Director, Centre for Integrated Human Studies
NOTES FROM THE LAST SEMINAR, CARING FOR AN AGEING POPULATION
Professor Matthew Tonts, a geographer, chaired, and opened by saying his interest in rural demography gave him a particular perspective on the topic of ageing. He said ageing was often presented as an “issue” but he felt it could also be viewed as a triumph.
Professor Leon Flicker, the inaugural professor of geriatric medicine at UWA, presented a snapshot of ageing supported by statistics, and showed that the picture was not as gloomy as economists and journalists painted it. The government issues “Intergenerational reports” – the third has just been delivered – and these often contain projections upon which ruin is forecast. But projections are based on the current situation, and trends may vary. The birth rate, for example, has increased, as has workforce participation, so the pessimistic picture of a huge retired population supported by few workers may change.
However, we are living longer than expected five years ago – life expectancy has been increasing steadily this century – and less immigration means more ageing in the population (as migrants typically swell numbers in younger age groups, and have children). The fastest growing section of the population is people in their eighties and older. Health policies need to respond to the growing incidence of dementia as a cause of disability and death.
The change from residential aged care to home care for the aged has satisfied both the government’s desire for economy and people’s wishes not to go into care.Leon revealed a fact little recognised by younger people: older people are not so different from them! Sexual activity, for example, occurs throughout life, and is perceived as important. Although disability rates do increase with age, the vast majority of people over 70 years are not disabled. The task for our ageing community is to manage frailty.
Faye Bastow, a physiotherapist working privately in sports physiotherapy and in aged care, pointed out that many “baby boomers” are in the “sandwich generation”, that is, they still have dependant children, and are also caring for aged relatives. She felt that work-life balance and work flexibility needed to take this into account.
For many people, moving an aged parent into residential care constitutes a huge crisis – often precipitated by a fall – for which they are not prepared. Faye described the practical steps that can be taken before a crisis is reached. The first step is to request (through a GP) an ACAT (Aged Care Assessment Team) assessment. The ACA Team conducts various tests to assess a person’s capacity to live independently at home, and delivers a recommendation based on the results. Depending on the recommendation, the aged person may be able to stay at home with various levels of assistance provided, and put their name down for residential care placement when their need increases. Respite care is also available so carers can take a break. Faye said information about aged care was available through a number of agencies listed on the “Age Page” on page 5 of the Business and Government White Pages.
The chances of staying out of residential care can be increased by avoiding falls. The Injury Control Council of WA promotes a “Stay on Your Feet” campaign that lists practical strategies – such as wearing appropriate shoes, getting vision checks, and exercising to maintain balance – to mitigate risk. It also has a program of Mall Walking Groups that provides safe indoor exercise for seniors. Tai chi is also good exercise for older people.
Brain health is important too, and mental exercise is as useful as physical exercise for maintaining health. Incontinence could also precipitate a move to care, as urgency or needing to get up in the night could increase the risk of falls. Faye stressed that there was good treatment for incontinence and people should not think of it as a normal part of ageing. The newspapers Have a Go and The Senior are freely available and good sources of information for people approaching old age.