South Australian aged care provider Bene Aged Care is holding an exhibition to share the positive stories of ageing and aged care and challenge negative stereotypes.

The LivingProof exhibition, which opened at Adelaide’s Migration Museum on 14 March, aims to celebrate often over-looked aspects of ageing such as moments of joy, beauty and life-affirming experiences.

Writer and chef Rosa Matto and photographer Italo Vardaro have documented the day-to-day lives  of 10 aged care residents, consumers, family members, staff and volunteers in a book and through recordings and photographs.

The pair interviewed, recorded and photographed participants from late 2019 to January 2021.

The project aimed to share the experiences of the Bene Aged Care residents, said the provider’s chief executive Andrew McFarlane.

Andrew Mcfarlane

“The objective of LivingProof was to challenge the stereotypical perceptions of ageing and aged care by showing a strong sense of identity, relationships and community evident in an aged care setting,” Mr McFarlane told Australian Ageing Agenda.

The inspiration for the project came from Ms Matto, who has been visiting, sharing coffee and cooking with and for residents and their families for years, he said.

“Her real theory on storytelling… is ‘if we ignore our storytellers, we’re lost in society,’” Mr McFarlane said.

“That was the driving motion, that all these people are getting older, but don’t have the opportunity to express their life experiences.

”Ms Matto said she wanted to focus on participants’ current lives.

“Every time I went I encountered people who were happy and joyous but we never talk about that, we’re always fixated on the past,” Ms Matto said.

“I could see sometimes with some of them the look of dread because they couldn’t remember their past and I thought, ‘why are we just playing into the stereotype of living in God’s waiting room?’

“I wanted to flesh out their story in the context of what they are living now. It started with what brings them joy now,” Ms Matto said.

Some of the stories of residents share their experiences with their partners, gardening and doing crosswords.

Bene Aged Care St Clair resident Nello, 86, talks about his passion for gardening.

Bene Aged Care resident Nello

 “When I moved, I brought a few cuttings with me: the tomatoes you see in the courtyard, the seeds for the parsley. We grew everything we needed in Leslie Street. We hardly needed to go to the shop. Why go to a market? I grew everything. For Angela, I planted flowers – she liked a vase of flowers inside every week – beautiful roses, carnations, lilies, chrysanthemums, whatever was in season,” Nello said.

Bene Aged Care St Clair volunteer Lynne shared her experiences for painting residents’ nails.

“I love bright colours and glitter but they are a bit more reserved, going mostly for muted colours and ignoring my suggestions of bright purple with green glitter. I’m working on them. So far, June and Brian, yes Brian – are happy for a light coat of glitter over the top,” Lynne said..

Mr McFarlane said almost 100 families and residents came along to the exhibition’s opening day. “Everyone was very positive about it particularly from the project participants, they were very proud to be acknowledged and heard on the day,” he said.

The exhibition will be on display at the Migration Museum until 30 June.

Main image: An image of Jean Fowler from Bene Aged Care at the exhibition.

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