Independence is the lifeblood of opportunity.
Being able to dictate your own actions both physically and mentally ensures that every decision that you make is in your best interest and that includes how much you choose to interact with other people.
As we grow older we become more vulnerable which often leads to a deterioration in independence and a reliance on others. Unfortunately for some elderly people, having the ability to converse with someone in a meaningful way is no longer an option solely dependant on them.
Prolonged periods without meaningful human contact and interaction will often result in feeling unvalued and worthless, which is detrimental to an individuals mental health and overall wellbeing.
While the headline grabbing horror stories of neglect take centre stage in the aged care media, the fact of the matter is that those types of incidents are extremely rare.
But issues like loneliness and isolation currently plague elderly Australians in residential aged care facilities, as well as homecare, and sadly very few people are talking about it.
In recent years the NSW Emergency Service received over 211,000 phone calls for services including ambulance callouts, and realised that these calls were actually being made by only 190 people within the state of NSW.
These people were not in a state of emergency though, they simply needed someone to talk to and felt that they had no other option.
While the visual image of an elderly person to calling an ambulance over to discuss their cats is certainly amusing, it also speaks volumes about how lonely some people actually are, while simultaneously putting the lives of people who do need emergency assistance at risk.
Human contact and meaningful interaction is integral to the overall quality of an elderly person’s life, and the families of residents who utilise aged care services need to begin to look at themselves and the effort that they make to interact with their loved one, as the first step to solving this problem.
One of the main reasons that people hesitate to discuss this issue is simply guilt.
While families obviously care for their elderly family members, time demands on a modern family can make it difficult to find the time to visit.
This often leads to families not visiting elderly relatives as often as they would like and stirs up feelings of guilt and remorse.
Families can often combat this guilt by having unrealistic ideas of the capabilities of aged care facilities.
Aged care employees do everything in their power to ensure an environment that is friendly and safe, but the responsibility of these duties often means that carers are unable to provide the level of human engagement that some people require in order to feel happy.
And no matter how many activities a resident is involved with or how many friends they have in a facility, nothing will ever compare to the sense of love and value that they receive when they interact with close friends and family.
Elderly people without access to family and those in rural areas often experience longer and more sustained periods of isolation and loneliness than any of the elderly demographic, and it will take a societal change in attitude and enhanced community support in order to create positive change in these areas.
If the Australian public is serious about wanting to improve the lives of its elderly citizens they must first ask themselves what more they could actually be doing, as opposed to asking, who should be doing that for me?
Because no matter how good the level of care is, it’s hard for a person to feel valued when they don’t feel like a high priority to the people who are supposed to care for them the most.