Elderly shouldn’t mean vulnerable, writes Jason Waller.
The Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety recently reported that Australia’s collective idea of aged care is a ‘lonely, powerless and unhappy’ place to be. The stream of sorry stories that came to light through the Royal Commission, due to the lack of care and concern for our ageing population, was stomach churning.
The government says it’s listening and acting, recently announcing an additional $362 million or the aged-care sector to help more than 6,000 older Australians live independently at home.
This is a very small step though toward where we need to be.
With the looming threat of a second wave of COVID-19, and potentially additional waves to come, our elderly community is at risk now more than ever before.
This is not a criticism of aged care workers. Like all systemic failures, it’s often those at the coal face that bear the burden of both extra workload and blame. The pandemic has simply exposed further weak points in an already stressed system. But, it cannot be ignored that the elderly population is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and that risk is heightened by being in an aged care facility.
The failure to adequately cope with COVID-19 is just one example of how poor our model for aged care is. The larger issue is that government funding will never keep pace with demand because of the population demographic.
The taxation base simply isn’t there to support that outcome and further calls for government funding will seem like yelling into the wind. Trying to address the issues with residential aged care by throwing more money at the problem is simply putting a finger in the dyke. The problem needs to be tackled further upstream so that residential age care becomes the safety net rather than the norm in an older adult’s ageing journey.
The need to move Australia towards a more sustainable aged care system has never been more urgent. Government funding for this has the potential to be lifesaving, but it needs to produce more bang for buck.
Over 80 per cent of Commonwealth funds goes to only 15 per cent of recipients. This isn’t a sustainable model. Boosting the sector now to allow technology for in-home care to be reimbursable through Medicare is the obvious first step.
Through Artificial Intelligence platforms, homes can become “smart” enough to learn a person’s daily routine. Once the routine is learned, these AI tools can then monitor, in a very unobtrusive way, the person’s day to day activities and alert family and carers when there is a serious deviation from the routine.
It provides a mechanism for addressing health and wellbeing at the beginning of the ageing journey. From there, issues can be detected intercepted and resolved before they deteriorate to the point where families and the elderly are left with few alternatives.
This doesn’t mean Big Brother is watching over someone’s every move. It means making sure those who need to know (family and carers) are aware their older adults family and clients, for example, are getting up many times in the night which could indicate something simple like a urinary tract infection before it becomes something very serious.
If left too long, UTIs can lead to delirium which could lead to a fall which could lead to hospitalisation. That is why mechanisms like Medicare funding for technology makes economic sense. As a person deteriorates they may become hospitalised, resulting in discharge into residential aged car. At these points, cost to the Commonwealth escalate far beyond the costs of technology utilised in the community by GPs and carers.
This technology is preventative. A guardian angel, not a Big Brother. It helps older people retain their independence and their dignity in a way that aged care facilities simply cannot accommodate. In short, it enables them to live the way they deserve to at this point in their lives. And that’s a pretty small ask.
Jason Waller is the CEO and Managing Director of InteliCare.