TIME may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.
Billions are spent each year on preventing the socially less acceptable consequences of ageing, most often relating to appearance, sexuality and vitality, but little consideration is given to the advance of frailty and even dementia at some stage further down the track.
Governments and industry organisations have long recognised that support services for the aged are not cheap, and we have all been told for years to plan well in advance to fund the years past early retirement.
But with one in 10 of all WA residents now aged at least 65, and the aged proportion of the population expected to increase steadily, wholesale planning for this section of the community is now attracting more urgent thought.
WA’s public hospitals, together with those requiring around-the-clock care, and their families, are among those already bearing the brunt of inadequate services for current needs.
But acute health care is not the only issue in catering for an ageing population.
As with many other community and lifestyle issue campaigns, the aged focus is increasingly including wellbeing, quality of life, and preventative components.
Brightwater Care Group CEO Penny Flett says the focus on ageing as a health issue is too narrow a view, with people facing up to 30 years – a whole new lifetime – after retirement from full-time work.
Ageing is a life issue, and like any other, involves social, design and housing components, Dr Flett says.
Tertiary training courses need to include obligatory units on age-friendly futures, she recommends.
The WA Government is encouraging ‘holistic retirement planning’, following a recent report which revealed that of the 40-59 year age group, just one in three people was actively planning for retirement.
The WA Council on the Ageing says the most common question asked by those contemplating retirement is: "How much money do I need for retirement?"
Only a few give much thought to the fact that there will be up to 2,000 spare hours each year, come retirement, the council says.
Dr Flett says partners often fail to consider they will be living together in a totally different way than before, with the relation-ships undergoing a complete redesign within a new lifestyle.
Many issues need to be considered much earlier, including accommodation options to suit varying circumstances and expectations.
Steve Kenney, general manager for retirement accommodation and community aged care service specialist the St Ives Group, said the average age for those in retirement villages was between 70 and 80.
Seventy was no longer considered old, he said, and those in this type of accommodation were generally still hale and hearty, although ageing.
Often people were trading down to move into one of these villages, releasing capital to help fund the next stage of their life. But if mature villages were sold out in their preferred area they may have to join a waiting list.
Many liked the idea of having a health care component attached to a village, Mr Kenney said.
Hostel care was generally for those who had had health problems, or who were without a partner.
However, there was only a fixed number of accredited hostel care and nursing home beds, and to gain access to a nursing home bed, one needed to first be assessed by an aged-care team.
Housing – public and rental – needs to be built in a way that is age-friendly, Dr Flett says.
She said the baby boomer generation would not be prepared to give up choice of lifestyle and location, and would be quite demanding.
"We will want choice and flexibility, and will only buy where we see value," Dr Flett said. "We will want support to live where and how we choose, as we age with or without a health issue.”
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