My parents are aged in their 80s now. They are part of a generation of Australians that experienced WWII — too young to participate in active service but old enough for their lives to be ‘bookmarked’ by the austerity measures that accompanied it and the prosperity that followed in the 1950s and the 1960s. They built their own house in a new subdivision of Geelong when building materials were in short supply and when making a home, and raising a family were promoted by the Government as the most important ways to build a nation. They raised my two sisters and I in a place that brimmed with family and friends, they worked hard in a family business, they were active in community groups — Apex and Rotary — and my father did a stint on the local Council: They were the Mayor and Lady Mayoress for a term.
On Monday a nurse from the Aged Care Assessment Service (ACAS) came to assess their capacity to stay safe and continue to live at home. My mother has advanced Alzheimer’s and my father is legally blind. When he asked what they did, my father replied, “We just exist.”
Last night I made dinner for them, the food my mother cooked when she was able: Corned beef, baby carrots, mashed potato and broccoli. I even made parsley sauce. My father does most of the cooking now, with my sister and I taking meals to them twice a week. As I left to come home, my father gave me a bag of material that the ACAS nurse had left for him. There is a big book, DPS Guide to Aged Care, a brochure on how to access a home care package, one on changes to aged care packages, another on five steps to entry into an aged care home, an A4 envelope, information about respite services, information in your rights during an ACAS assessment, information on the assessment outcome, and an Aged care fees income assessment from centrelink; none of which my father or my mother can read.
Both my father and my mother have been assessed as needing care. My father is eligible for permanent residential care as is my mother. He is also eligible for low level residential care and a home care package. My mother is eligible for high level home care
Without even looking up statistics, I know that in Australia we have an aging population. I also know that it will be my turn in the next twenty years. I also know that the so-called service sector is the largest sector in our economy and that it is growing. I also know that technology is rapidly changing the way services are delivered. But what alarms me is the lack of service that the so-called service sector offers my parents and all other aging Australians.
For starters, how dare they give my father the material he needs to make decisions about managing his life in a format that he cannot access. In the digital age there are other formats … such as the spoken word.
But that is not all. On the information for clients sheets that my father can’t read, the sheet that informs him of the level of care they are eligible for, is the information on what they must do next:
To view your client record and support plans, you will need to create an account at www.mygov.com.au.
In fairness, there is a 1800 number for clients who need assistance or cannot manage that process.
This is just one example —albeit a critical one — where the service sector excludes older Australians. In our technology driven society we are encouraged to self serve, to drive through, to access information on line, but I can’t believe that even a service designed to deliver information and care to elderly Australians treats them and their particular needs with such disrespect.