Update from inaugural ATSI ageing forum

Respectful collaboration between Elders, service providers and specialists enables better aged and end-of-life care, write Ellen Finlay and Dr Meg Polacsek.

Respectful collaboration between Elders, service providers and specialists enables better aged and end-of-life care, write Ellen Finlay and Dr Meg Polacsek.

Across the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations are ageing at a faster rate than the rest of Australia’s population.

Ellen Finlay

For Aboriginal people, health includes physical, social, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing. Health is also related to each person’s environment and circumstances.

As such, key determinants of health and wellbeing in Aboriginal individuals and communities include cultural identity and activities, language, family and kinship, knowledge and beliefs, Country and caring for Country, and access to traditional lands.

There is a clear need for inclusive and culturally appropriate aged care services for older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Elders. These services depend on genuine respect of local, cultural, spiritual and community knowledges, and open collaboration with people willing to share their knowledge and expertise.

In May 2023, the inaugural Ageing at the Centre: Putting Elders and older people at the heart of our work forum brought together Aboriginal Elders, local service providers and other stakeholders to share their knowledge, skills and insights to improve the experience of ageing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Participants at the inaugural Ageing at the Centre forum in Mpartwe Alice Springs

It was a strategic decision to hold the forum in Mparntwe Alice Springs, as it contextualised the discussions and demonstrated why mainstream practices and frameworks are often inappropriate or challenging for providers who support Elders and older people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The two-day forum, facilitated through the work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing Advisory Group of the Australian Association of Gerontology, provided a culturally safe environment for delegates to attend workshops and presentations, access resources, share strategies and speak with peers about ageing and aged care.

ATSIAAG consists entirely of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of AAG, while Friends of ATSIAAG consists of non-Indigenous researchers, clinicians, policymakers and practitioners committed to addressing gaps, challenges and opportunities related to ageing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.

Dr Meg Polacsek

Workshop topics and presentations were generated from members of ATSIAAG and included strategies to support the social and emotional wellbeing in staff and clients, innovative care practices from culturally safe providers in regional and remote areas, and best practice approaches to advance care planning with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A particular focus was also placed on issues impeding the expansion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care workforce, including low awareness and appeal of the aged care sector, difficulties in recruitment and retention, and the urgent demand for appropriate education and training.

Despite barriers to integrating cultural and local knowledges into aged care, there are opportunities to deliver care that in varied contexts, promotes culturally safe services, and is supportive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care clients, staff and providers. This depends on respectful collaboration between Elders, service providers and specialists. AAG is now providing support for ATSIAAG to undertake policy development on key issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s ageing and aged care.

The forum was held at the Purple Shed, Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation. It was supported by Tangentyere Aged and Community Services and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing and Aged Care Council.

Ellen Finlay is AAG’s First Nations Policy and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing Advisory Group officer and Dr Meg Polacsek is AAG’s communications, advocacy and grants manager

Main image: Participants at the inaugural Ageing at the Centre forum in Mpartwe Alice Springs

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Tags: aag, aboriginal and torres strait islander people, ellen finlay, meg polacsek,

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