Seniors on the Coast Article – June 2016

There was a recent episode on SBS Insight about new approaches to aged living, and in particular, broadening the options to more holistically and individually cater for the needs and wishes of families.  It was heartening the conversation was being aired and scary in the same breath at the lack of choice.

Currently, unless you are independent, both physically, mentally and even financially, the options for seniors as they move into the remainder of their lifetime, narrows significantly.  For most, whilst the desire to maintain autonomy and stay at home is paramount, often this option is not available or practical.

Should a person need help, their first wish is to have a partner or family take care of them, but often that is not available. Adult children work and have their own families and same aged partners face increasing ‘carer stress’ and as well a decline in their own abilities.

Unfortunately and most likely, the day will come when a choice needs to be made. Often they are made too late, in crisis mode and without the agreement, support and consensus of family. Those choices are limited to aged care residences and the pathway to more high care nursing homes.  And sadly, hospitals also form part of the mix, becoming holding spaces beyond acute care delivery, providing rehab and respite services during times when ill-health and deterioration of condition can happen.

Because we are living longer, does not mean me are living better. In fact, often we are staying sicker for longer, and acquiring increasingly more complex and chronic conditions. It is a heart wrenching situation to contemplate. We want to deny as long as we can our mortality and ageing.

There are never any easy conversations or unanimous agreements amongst families. It is sometimes hard to resist making choices that are emotion-based and not practical. Sometimes the pendulum swings the other way, where decisions are based on solely on by cost, logistics and practicality, whether that be through circumstance or agenda.  Whatever is the driving motivation, it is hard to find a joyful solution.  But I am not ready to accept that we can’t!

In other countries, new, paradigm shifting options are being trialed. In the TV program following the SBS Insight, was a documentary from The Netherlands showing an aged cared residential community opening its doors to students. In exchange for free board, the students were required to give 30hours a month of service, gifting their care, skills, presence and work to help make the residents lives better.

It was an amazing success.  The daily interaction and blending of ages was enlivening and enriching for all.  The residents gained new skills with technology, felt connected and integrated with modern life, had fun watching the ‘dating’ antics of the young and felt valued and respected for their life wisdoms.  The students not only received the financial benefit, they felt the altruistic benefits of giving, caring and loving others. They learnt so much heart wisdom and life perspectives from their resident neighbors.  Lives were transformed all around.

Other options are being pioneered even here in Australia too. One such alternative model is private co-ops of couples creating group homes and sharing resources to get economies of scale which they can use to fund for extra care and services that can be scaled up and shared as required.

Other models based on for example, the “Eden Effect”, are about creating enriched and purposeful living environments, where they bring animals, allow childcare, encourage residents to work and do jobs and foster a sense of real authentic community into a residential model, these type of possibility offer a more attractive care solution.  There just needs to be more.

What strikes me about all these new scenarios is that it doesn’t limit choice to within a single family’s capacity and it requires a whole of community, whole of society, and collective approach.  They are motivated by a values-based approach, where solutions were arrived at based on the primary values that the stakeholders identified as important to them – values such as connection, quality, meaning, purpose, comfort, pleasure, beauty, dignity and love.

When you think of it, we are all in this situation…just at different stages of our lives.  We all are primary stakeholders in the solutions that are created today in order to make our tomorrow better. We all have a stake in the quality of life that everyone in our community enjoys. Some things we can do right now are:

  • Don’t put your head in the sand – research options
  • Have the important conversations with your family and loved ones
  • Identify what your core values are that will dictate the choices you, or your family will make
  • Take personal responsibility to stay as healthy, well and vital as you can
  • Make financial plans, living wills and advanced care directives and make these known to your families
  • And all of us…advocate, hustle and hassle our politicians, think creatively and collaboratively and own the solutions

Much love. Sarah

Sarah Tolmie is a life & love coach, therapist and consultant. Her practice focuses on helping individuals, couples and families navigate, grow and heal through all their life & love events, changes and challenges –  including love, marriage & family relationships; success, health & wellness; and grief & loss, as well as coping with illness, dying and death. Sarah is also a Life & Love Celebrant, and Pastoral Care Practitioner, creating profound and meaningful ceremonies for all life & love events. In her practice Sarah’s focus is on maintaining a heart-based, love-led, laughter-filled and meaning-making life.  You can visit her website  and receive her Daily Love updates on her Facebook page at Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love.