Friday Reflection: Planning for a grey future

“I am never going to a nursing home/ retirement village/old people’s home! Over my dead body!” These words, of course, should be expressed in capital letters with perhaps the odd expletive added, to convey their determination and force. This refrain has probably been repeated millions of times around the world by parents and the elderly. Some of the angst behind these words revolves around misconceptions of what these places are like, and many of these reactions are based on our fear of ageing and losing independence.

I remember my own family members saying these words, and I recall the stubbornness and vehemence with which the words were uttered. Of course, some of these future decisions may be taken out of our hands as we age. We all probably would like to stay, and probably die, in our own homes, peacefully at the age of one hundred plus. But such magical thinking is just that – magical. 

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A friend of mine manages a residential aged care home in the north-west of Melbourne, so on a whim I thought to visit, to check one out for myself and to allay my own future fears. After all, it is best to be prepared.

It is a new facility and it showed me the type of care that is available in Melbourne, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Gone are the days of wards that resembled hospitals, now residents are placed in family units of 20 people, each with their own room but who share common spaces. The rooms are bright, with flowers everywhere and in the open areas comfortable seating is arranged in intimate settings, by a fireplace or near a picture window.

The aim of the centre is to provide as much stimulation and meaning as is possible for the residents.

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The residents join in on craft and physiotherapy sessions, movie nights in the purpose-built cinemas and even enjoy a very popular happy hour in the late afternoon, with drinks and party pies and snacks a favourite fare. There is a library, hair salon and coffee stations in each main area and the coffee is cafe quality, delivered from espresso machines. Outside, each family group has a dedicated garden and walking space with a deliberate choice of flowers and shrubs such as lavender and rosemary to add to the sensory experience and to stimulate people’s memories.

The protocols for COVID were exemplary, with a whole dedicated wing set aside for future use. Hopefully that will not be needed.

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Sadly, as modern medicine is giving us the chance to live longer lives; the dual-edged sword of this is that old age seems to be paved with patients living with dementia and this is the most challenging of diseases and behaviours to cope with. The residents I saw here though, were treated with great respect, care and dignity. It was heartening to see.

So, what is the message of my investigation into modern-day aged care? Stay as fit and active as you can, at every age you are at. Be curious, learn new things and above all have a network of family and friends to keep you social and aware of the world around you. That way you get a fighting chance to postpone your residency in one! Good luck.

What are your thoughts on modern-day aged care? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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