National Ageing Research Institute Seminar

The Federal Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt AM, MP spoke at the National Ageing Research Institute Seminar in South Melbourne on 13 October 2017.

Page last updated: 13 October 2017

PDF printable version of National Ageing Research Institute Seminar (PDF 272 KB)

13 October 2017

Good morning everyone.

Before I begin I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Bunarong people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I want to thank Associate Professor Briony Dow for inviting me to speak at this important seminar.

I would also like to acknowledge Dr Patricia Edgar and Dr Don Edgar as NARI’s Ambassadors, Associate Professor Michael Murray, President of the NARI Board, Ms Maree McCabe, NARI Board Member, Mr Kevin McCoy from Australian Unity and the Hon. David Davis, Victoria’s Shadow Minister for Public Transport, Planning and Equality.

I also welcome today’s keynote speakers – Dr Helen Barrie and Professor Charles Guest – and panel members Professor Ester Cerin, Dr Jan Garrard, Professor Laurie Buys, Simon Drysdale, Associate Professor Clare Newton, Wendy Henderson and Paulene Mackell.

Ladies and gentlemen.

The surroundings in which we are born, learn, work and grow old play a fundamental role in our social, mental and physical wellbeing.

So, I applaud this seminar’s theme of “From climate change, to care – how the environment impacts older people”.

Understanding the power of places, and our essential linkages to them, will help underpin positive change, during what’s shaping up as the most significant period of aged care reform we have ever known.

There are challenges for Australia in responding to an ageing population, but there are vast opportunities, as well.

Elders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies are revered and respected as givers of wisdom. They are our history books and guides for the future.

All older Australians should be honoured this way, because they created the nation, that we often take for granted today.

Our Aboriginal people’s connection to their land and special places is all-encompassing.

I have heard many Elders say softly as they talk of home, or are returning there: “My country.”

Because their country is them and they are their country.

That is why we are working to keep ageing indigenous people within their familiar environments as long as possible.

In close liaison with Top End communities, planning is now underway for a tailored aged care service for East Arnhem Land, that enables Elders to stay on country and sustains jobs for local carers.

This will foster training and employment, and nurture traditional community connections and the handing down of knowledge.

The new service is expected to open in late 2018, and will add to the 32 existing and unique services, mainly in rural and remote locations, funded under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program.

Recently, I was honoured to meet a number of Elders and community leaders during a visit to the APY Lands of Central Australia.

The types of aged care and support varied, but the common thread, of course, was closeness to country.

What I also encountered, was the importance and power of art centres in the region, where older people comprise up to one-third of the artists.

So I congratulate Paulene Mackell and the NARI on partnering in a pioneering research project that is now exploring ways remote art centres can link older people to care.

It will be exciting to see how these centres may be able to foster local lifestyle solutions, especially for people living with dementia.

You will be happy to know that both my aged care adviser and I bought some beautiful artworks while we were there, and were heartened by the vital role that scores of these arts hubs play in supporting and enriching the lives of both younger and older people.

Living at home with their art and within their environment is fundamental to their life stories.

But I believe that, no matter whether we are – whether it is Arnhem Land, the APY Lands, or Albert Park - maintaining our environmental equilibirum is important.

On average, Australians can now expect to live well into our 80s – and I say we should aim to live beyond a century or more.

Given the choice, the majority of us, especially Baby Boomers like me, want to stay in our own homes and communities for as long as possible.

After growing up in a world with a lot of options, it’s perfectly natural we expect this to continue as we age.

There’s no reason to expect Gen X, Y or Z will be any different – so it’s important we plan, not just for the here and now, but the long-term future of aged care.

Demand for home-based care is growing strongly, so I am strongly focused on home support.

While home care is increasingly favoured by older Australians, it’s a win-win for taxpayers, too, because generally it costs far less than residential care.

Once again, I applaud the work of NARI in this area, with your ongoing research into adaptive technologies that will enable older people to stay in their own homes for longer.

In both home-based and residential care, I am certain technology will play an increasingly important role in maintaining quality care in familiar environments.

There is already an Australian-designed app helping thousands of people link directly with individual home care providers, promising to improve choice in tailored home care services.

In the residential space, another successful app, is connecting the staff who provide care, and the homes themselves.

A few years ago, who could have imagined either of these mobile technologies, and how they could enhance aged care – so who knows what new approaches are around the corner?

What we do know, is that creativity and change are vital – and we look forward to the results of the raft of exciting projects, including yours, now funded by the latest $34 million Dementia and Aged Care research grants.

Dementia currently directly affects over 400,000 Australians, with more than one million family members and others involved in their care.

The number of people with dementia is expected to rise to 1.1 million by 2056, and the care costs could be over $36 billion a year.

Once again, the Institute, led by Professor Dow, is showing the way in home care research, winning a major National Health and Medical Research Council grant to develop and trial an education and training program for home care workers looking after people with dementia.

As one of the research team said: “It will be a driver for higher quality home care services in an increasingly consumer-driven aged care sector.”

Having familiar surroundings can provide continuity and comfort as we age – but when our physical or mental condition dictates that home-based care is no longer an option, I believe the next best thing is a truly “homely” environment.

Recently, I met residents and staff in Australia’s first “small household ” aged care complex, and I firmly believe this type of accommodation will become a major part of our residential care now and into the future.

Located here in Perth, MercyHealth’s Edgewater complex is based on a Netherlands model, that brings small groups of no more than 8 people together in individual houses, each with their own kitchens and homely facilities.

When I go into aged care homes, I regularly meet management and staff, but at Edgewater I actually knocked on the door of each house, gave a small gift of appreciation, and was welcomed in by residents.

It was like going into someone’s home – which is exactly what I WAS doing, and how I believe most people would like residential aged care to be.

Residents are regularly involved in meal preparation, gardening, excursions and a wide range of activities, both within each house, and in the larger complex – which in this case has four, standalone homes.

At Edgewater, I found among residents an incredible feeling of camaraderie and support for eachother.

As much as possible, they manage their own lives – there is a strong sense of ownership and safeness, supported by a specially developed, multi-skilled staffing model.

In its first year of operation, the centre has already recorded impressive health and wellbeing results for residents, with less falls, fewer hospital admissions and improved wellness, especially in terms of weight retention.

Importantly, it is also financially viable, with the project to be extended to include a much larger cluster of houses, and even a proposal for a co-located school.

Imagine that – children and education incorporated into the broader grounds of an aged community. I had the opportunity whilst in Berlin recently to see the realities of such a model which involved the elderly and the young coming together – it would be great to see this sort of integration become a reality in our own backyard.

MercyHealth is now planning a rollout of this small house aged care Australia wide, which I predict will be a market driver, as older Australians vote with their feet to live in a home-like place.

I note NARI’s work to improve aged services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, which is also a high priority on the Turnbull Government’s aged care agenda.

The importance of providing a supportive and culturally comfortable environment for these Australians was brought home to me recently, when I launched two important aged care projects.

Here in Victoria, I officially opened the Mekong Cairnlea aged care centre, which accommodates elderly Vietnamese refugees and helps them stay close to their communities, while being cared for by people who understand their background.

And in Adelaide, I released a new resource kit, produced in partnership with South Australia’s Islamic communities.

This includes videos for aged care providers that explore Muslim history, culture, dress and cuisine, plus fact sheets and a Pocket Guide for Support Workers in Muslim aged care

The project has also developed and delivered cultural awareness and sensitivity training to more than 700 aged care staff.

Staying connected to your heritage, and familiar food and culture, can make all the difference to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.

We’ve heard from many older people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds about the barriers they face when accessing the information and care they need.

The Turnbull Government will continue to work closely with consumers and the aged care sector to ensure care is flexible, takes into account people’s gender, identity and culture, and supports them in environments where they can grow old with dignity.

This is why the Government – in consultation with the sector and others – has developed the new and robust Aged Care Diversity Framework.

It is built on a set of principles to drive reform and will address the systemic barriers to aged care services felt by people from diverse groups in our society.

Finally, I would like to return to part of your seminar’s theme – climate change.

Just this week, I noted Queensland research sounding alarm bells over rising temperatures, surging power prices and the impact on our ageing population.

It suggests that temperature fluctuations in residential care need to be better regulated, to protect vulnerable elder citizens, especially in hot summer months.

As Aged Care Minister, I am glad we have such a breadth of research conducted by organisations like NARI and others, that is being translated into real and tangible change for the better.

(Insert personal NSW heat story)

The work you do at the National Ageing Research Institute shines a light on what it means to grow older in Australia.

I thank the Institute for its contribution to this important and ongoing national discussion about ageing well – living longer and living better.

I am working hard with the sector to provide the most appropriate and best possible environments for the diversity of older people as they age.

I wish you well today and I look forward to seeing and hearing about the outcomes.

Thank you.

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