New horizons for aged care

Residents and locals will have access to a community hub as part of the integrated aged care facility at Meridan Plains.

A seismic shift in the aged care industry is bringing enjoyment back into the lives of the elderly, but deeper shifts in care are also needed, Nicole Hegarty says.


News media has been awash with horrific stories of residential aged care facilities in past weeks from the  neglect of residents at South Australia’s Oakden nursing home, to reports of maggots in a resident’s mouth at Opal Raymond Terrace Gardens. In the process of reporting these abhorrent cases another newsworthy story has been overlooked: the positive developments.

Elderly members of society have helped shape the communities we live in. Now they require extra help with tasks that we take for granted, and many have become more reliant on the help of others.

These people are grandparents, parents, retired teachers, builders and community members. They deserve the best we can offer and we should not settle for any less. They should not be locked away, out of sight, waiting to be forgotten. We should embrace them and learn from them. After all, they are some of the wisest people in society.

In recent years the traditional design of residential aged care has been challenged by innovative layouts. Two of the most interesting models are integrated communities and vertical aged care.

Integrated communities cater for retirees and residents requiring low and high care, meaning people don’t have to move again when they require further assistance. Churches of Christ in Queensland has begun work on the $28 million first stage of an integrated community at Meridan Plains. This development will include a café, community hall and hair salon that are open for anyone to use. The Seniors and Supported Living director Bryan Mason says the aim of the project is to create an inclusive community instead of isolating residents with higher needs.

Vertical aged care also deviates from the traditional look and feel of an aged care facility. This style of care is being built around Australia and delivers a resort style of living. Opal aged care opened the first facility of this type on the Sunshine Coast in March. The $32 million complex at Birtinya includes a coffee shop and hair salon.

The future of aged care is heart-warming, but there is still an unmet, increased need for more staff.

The perseverance of my Grandad learning to walk again after breaking his hip only to be put in a wheelchair when he returned to the nursing home is one example of the continued opportunity for improvement.

I know I am not alone in my experiences. In 1998 12 per cent of Australians were 65 or older and by 2015 that figure was 15.1 per cent, with a continued rise predicted. Australia’s aging population means there will be increased demand for aged care services so what better time to redefine the industry.

We will all have experiences with aged care in our lifetimes whether through visiting our relatives or as we too grow older.

So what will it be, an integrated community or a resort-style vertical facility? The face of aged care really is changing for the better. Let’s hope the level of care follows suit.

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