Are we seeing generational change for aged care in Australia?

The short answer: who knows?

With the release of the Final Report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, there has been a flurry of opinions, press coverage and promises. What I find interesting is that when it all comes down to it, the matter of how the much-needed changes will be funded is what gets the headlines.

And there's nothing the matter with that - it's probably high time all stakeholders (which, let's be honest, is basically all of us) started having a really good think about the bottom line. How do we sustainably fund care that is dignified and safe for all who need it? But it becomes a problem when that's all we think and talk about.

We could make the mistake of thinking that the generational change is about the amount of money dedicated to aged care. But if that's all the change this generation saw, I'm hard-pressed to see how it would even rate in the history books.

The real change is not in numbers, but in how we value aged care - and is that value attached to a dollar figure, or a national attitude? I would settle for both, but not one or the other.

So what does generational change really look like? How do you take the words "generational change" and actually do something with them that makes a difference?

Everyone, all at once:

A generation has been defined as, "everyone who draws breath together" - that is, everyone.

To make the changes we need, we need everyone, all aspects of our society and national structure, to be involved. The effort should be collaborative and consultative. Aged care quality and safety involves more than the domains of the healthcare industry and federal government. Everyone must take responsibility, and everyone must be part of the action to make things better.

Shifting attitudes:

In many cultures, age is revered. Not in Australia. In general, our attitude to ageing is plagued with negative connotations. Whether it's about our own ageing - which we view with great disdain after certain birthday numbers - or others ageing around us, we just don't value the wisdom, fortitude, or depth of experience that can come with age. Rather than embrace the process of ageing, we fear getting old. And it's a fear we like to shut away, much like the people who remind us of it.

Generational change is about a concerted effort to shift our national attitude toward ageing. And it's every bit as important as the dollars we dedicate along the way.

People, not programs:

In the chase to justify every dollar spent, we have created structures that don't honour people as people first. In a system obsessed with ticking the boxes, I believe we've collectively lost sight of the human aspect of aged care. Remember, it's humans caring for other, more vulnerable, humans. Have we lost the nobility of that cause? Have we forgotten the glory of giving dignity?

No, we haven't fully yet - it's those on the front lines, and the dedicated managers and trainers and advocates who keep that flame alive. But our system doesn't have a tick box for nobility of heart, passion, or even a free-text data entry point for what it means to still be alive at 94. This is what our current system fails to capture. And until we find a way to change that, and prioritise people over programs, we will fail at generational change.

What's the solution?

Given that even the Commissioners couldn't fully agree on how this all needs to happen, I don't anticipate I'll be providing the silver bullet for all of this either. But let's not allow "generational change" to become aged care's 2021 buzzword, without making a change in ourselves. Yes, it is the time for change, and as stakeholders in the future of aged care, we're all a part of it whether we know it or not.

What will you do as part of generational change? I'd love to hear about it - drop me a line.

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