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Inquiry provides ‘series of lessons which we need’

The aged care royal commission and its findings are “brilliant” because it will lead to a better system like it did in Britain, a conference on ageing hears.

Baroness Sally Greengross, CEO of the International Longevity Centre – UK, reflected on the United Kingdom care sector’s experience during her keynote address at the Australian Association of Gerontology conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

She said the royal commission and its findings are terribly sad for the people affected, but overall it’s good news.

Baroness Sally Greengross

“I know it is a difficult time. This has been a very upsetting report but it is brilliant.

“We had exactly the same situation in Britain and because of it we were able to improve the care where it wasn’t working well,” Baroness Greengross told delegates.

She said the findings are terrible, the publicity is awful and the process is difficult to face, but it is also a valuable opportunity to learn.

Different levels and different types of care are now monitored separately, Baroness Greengross said.

“The follow up procedures for monitoring care, for trying to get it right or ensuring it’s right have improved dramatically because of that upsetting report that we had to deal with in the past,” she said. 

“It is a series of lessons which we need; all of us. We need to keep being reminded about what we are doing well and what we are not doing well so we can be sure we get it better.”

Calls to change ageist language, ways

Elsewhere Baroness Greengross said labels of chronological age were unfair and contributed to ageism.

These labels, such as “pensioner” were important at times in the past because pensions were a wonderful invention that allowed older people to live independently.

“It is odd today to call somebody a pensioner. We don’t label people by the method of earning money,” she said.

It is time for an update if societies are to get rid of ageism, she said.

“We don’t always recognise it but it is there underlying our language, underlying what we say and it gives people an excuse to treat us differently as we get older.”

She used the example of the “anti-ageing cream” she put on at night.

“It isn’t anti-ageing, it is anti wrinkle cream. I don’t want to be anti-ageing,” she said.

“We put labels on a word that aren’t the right label and we need to try to change that. A label of chronological age can be unfair.”

Earlier in the day, Robert Tickner, co-chair of anti-ageism campaign EveryAGE Counts, called on delegates to end the age discrimination that too often goes unchallenged in Australia.

Robert Tickner

“It is important to recognise however that the discrimination has been allowed to continue because we have failed to shift the paradigm and conversation around ageism,” he told delegates.” 

He said most people have perpetuated ageism because of conditioning that older people were of lesser value and were less able.

“When there are these ingrained prejudices they perpetuate stereotyping and discrimination and ultimately even the mistreatment that has occurred against older Australians including in health services, employment and of course in aged care.”

Ageism impacts quality of care

Ageism is a big driver in safety, quality of care and the quality of life generally in the Australia aged care system, Mr Tickner said. 

In its submission to the aged care royal commission, EveryAGE Counts proposes a series of recommendations to directly challenge ageism and mitigate the impact of ageist norms in aged care.

“It is indisputable that the proliferation of negative social views about ageing and older people invariably is carried into aged care by family members, decision makers, by workforce and by older people themselves,” Mr Tickner said. 

He said the royal commissioners’ conclusion in their interim report that the language of public discourse was not respectful to older people showed they heard the voices of advocates. 

“The royal commission further concluded and I quote, as a nation Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities. And that sadly this failure to properly value and engage with older people as equal parts in our future has extended to our apparent indifference towards aged care services. 

He said a finding of apparent indifference was very grave.

Mr Tickner said the royal commission’s interim view was consistent with EveryAGE Counts’ longstanding core belief that adopting stereotypes of any group of people leads to discrimination and mistreatment. 

“When people become depersonalised and dehumanised through these stereotypes then as the course of human history has shown us… that mistreatment of people will follow.”

Mr Tickner said changing assumptions and beliefs was not going to be an easy task.

He called on delegates to redouble efforts to combat ageism wherever they find it. 

The AAG conference takes place at the International Convention Centre Sydney 5 – 8 November. Find out more here.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG.

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