Above: Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, presents on day one of the 9th Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Melbourne earlier this week.

By Yasmin Noone

The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, has stressed the key role that quality palliative care services should play in the reformed aged care sector of the future, during a presentation at the 9th Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Melbourne earlier this week.

On Monday, Minister Butler fronted conference attendees and ageing experts from as far as China and India and as close as New Zealand, to offer a brief overview on the Australian situation and emphaisis the importance of “dying well”.

The minister’s publically stated that the sector can only allow older people to live well if individuals are also enabled to  die well.

His comments about the importance of integrating quality palliative with aged care services, hints at the minister’s support for palliative care to become the “core business” of aged care, as suggested by the Productivity Commission’s (PC) in its recent Caring for Older Australians report.

However, the federal government is yet to formally respond to the PC inquiry during this term of government and no recommendations have been officially supported or rejected yet.

“The idea of ageing well depends on, in a large part, the [ability of] people to be able to die well,” the minister said.

Despite the fact that dying and death are still classified as “topics of taboo” in society, Australia still does particularly well in providing quality palliative care services and allowing people to die well.

However, he continued, “…it’s quite clear to me that Australians want to do much better”.

“Many Australians, in older age…die in a clinical environment when where they want to die is in the home.

“So that is why it is important”, he stressed, “to build a palliative care capacity in the community and enable people to die at home.”

The minister also emphasised the importance of building the capacity of the aged care system to enable it to better respond to the care needs of older Australians with specific cultural needs.

Opening his presentation with a few humorous comments about New Zealand’s win in the Rugby Union World Cup, the minister then went on to discuss the importance of the language used in the aged care reform debate.

People often asked, he said, what the government was going to do about “the problem of ageing”.

“…Ageing is not a problem but a privilege that [society] has been working towards for a very long time,” Mr Butler said.

“I can’t count the number of times that people have asked me…at community forums, how are we going to fix the problem [of ageing], as though it was a ‘problem’ and one that can be ‘fixed’.”

Increased longevity, he stressed, was not the result of “an accident” but something that had been achieved “through hard work” and “extraordinary efforts”.

“This is not a problem. It is a privilege for which humanity has worked hard for over a very long time.”

In fact, longevity is such a privilege that it provides older retired individuals with a number of extra years to enjoy life, “smell the roses, do some study, travel, or take up a hobby” after many years of work.

And this privilege, the minister said, is for both the individual and society as older people contribute significantly to both economy activity and the rich social fabric of Australia.

The Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG), in partnership with the New Zealand Association of Gerontology, hosted the 9th Regional Congress in Melbourne.

The Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics is run every four years for the Asia / Oceania Regional Council of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG).

AAG will also be hosting its 45th National Conference at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from 20-23rd November 2012.

The inter-disciplinary conference theme, Ageing: Challenging the Boundaries, will emphasise the importance of challenging and breaking through perceived boundaries in ageing that determine the limits of research, policy and practice.

This conference will be designed to connect, challenge, and inspire the exchange of innovative ideas between older people, researchers, practitioners, educators, industry, voluntary and community organisations and policy makers.

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