Sweetman, T. ‘Aged Care Needs a Dose of Empathy,’ The Courier Mail, June 07, 2008, p. 65

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Years ago I helped an aged aunt settle into a retirement village. She was pretty chuffed because the unit, although tiny, was brand new and pretty schmick.When you’ve spent your life living in rented, rundown or second-best digs, that’s really something.

When you’ve spent your life living in rented, rundown or second-best digs, that’s really something.

It offered everything she was looking for: independence, security, service, comfort and companionship.But then it slowly started to go ever-so-slightly wrong. Ongoing charges went up and standards of service and

But then it slowly started to go ever-so-slightly wrong. Ongoing charges went up and standards of service and maintenance went down.

People who were supposed to turn up didn’t turn up. Things that were supposed to be emptied, cleaned or
adjusted went untended.

Short of thumping walking sticks and enlisting relatives to huff and puff, there wasn’t much the residents could do.

When you’re in your late 70s and 80s and frail, your options are limited.
And as she watched her neighbours start the inevitable journey towards the grave, she discovered the assurances of ongoing care didn’t measure up.

Failing oldies were kept in their units far too long, spent too long in and out of community hospitals and then were shuffled off to establishments far from friends and family.

Gradually life became a worry. She fretted about what was happening and she fretted about what might happen.

She decided she had been dudded and even declared she was sorry she ever made the move. It was sad to see her distress but the deal was long signed, sealed and delivered.

Mercifully, death intervened before she had to face up to her concerns.

Then the worry – no, the annoyance – transferred to the family, as it became apparent the unit had to be sold back to the village owners for what my aunt had paid for it a decade earlier. The village then on-sold it to another aged person at the prevailing market price.

That’s business and, I guess, how they finance accommodation for growing numbers of retirees. There was no suggestion of illegality or sharp practice. It was all in the contract, but beyond the comprehension of my relative and others in the family whose interest was caring but, on reflection, cursory.

Now we are faced with the statistical probability of 120,000 people living in retirement and lifestyle villages in coming years. There are 250 villages in Queensland now and plans for 500 more. Already, it was reported last week, residents are accusing companies of profiteering, putting shareholders before the elderly, and treating the latter like idiots.

I’m sure there are shonks in the retirement business. I’m sure some just push the legal envelope to the limit and I’m sure the majority are honest. I also know there is no fool like an old fool.

However, while contracts – even the laughably termed plain-English versions – are gobbledegook to most ordinary folk, we will continue to have heartache.

The sad thing is that there is free – or subsidised – counselling for just about every other stage of our lives, from puberty to sexual experience, to marriage, to pregnancy, to parenthood, to getting in and out of debt, to coping with disease, to facing domestic violence, marital disaster or divorce and, ultimately, to accepting death. But there’s not much there to help make the transition from work to retirement, from family home to retirement

But there’s not much there to help make the transition from work to retirement, from family home to retirement village, from independence to dependence.

They are forced to dispose of their homes and make crucial and expensive decisions, often at a time when their life partners are no longer there.

We have ministers for ageing, so surely we can find a few bucks to have somebody walk the elderly through
contracts and house rules before they commit to massive lifestyle changes.

Life’s a cycle and kids and the elderly are our most vulnerable.

We have a duty to protect our elders – even from themselves – because growing old can be a lonely journey.

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