Tonight is a big one for my dad. He is on the Spirit of Tasmania with his new motorhome, off on his first real excursion, testing his capacity to bring a dream into reality. It will not be easy. His mobility is limited and there is much he will need to figure out as he goes.
But hardest of all is not figuring out how to cope with the practical realities of daily life on the road. Hardest of all is that my dear mum is not with him. She will spend the next few weeks in the dementia ward of the aged care facility that is her home these days, without my dad’s daily companionship. The next few weeks will require lots of different kinds of courage from Dad. As he has said on more than one occasion, ‘old age is not for whimps’.
Maria’s dad is also in an aged care facility so we have spent quite a bit of time around them in recent times. And I feel uneasy. You know when you get a deep feeling that things are not right, but it is hard to figure out what the alternatives are …. aged care feels like that.
One of the triggers for thinking about this was Karen Hitchcock’s (in The Monthly) intelligent rebuttal of Andrew Denton’s contribution to the euthanasia debate. In essence she argues that a ‘quality of life’ argument for euthanasia cannot be legitimately offered until we fix our societies inability to treat our senior citizens with an integrated dignity and respect. “Death can only be the solution when life itself is the problem.”
I thought about it again tonight when reading Sophie Grove’s essay in this month’s Monocle magazine where she discusses what innovative architects and planners are doing around the world to place the very young and the aged in proximity. Childcare centres and aged care facilities co-located with shared facilities including meals. Places in Paris and Seattle are doing interesting things. NYC firm HWKN is also exploring alternatives. And of course, many societies don’t have far to look to find traditional family and community cultures that integrate the lives of ageing people, including South Korea and Japan whose populations lead the table of ‘oldest’ societies.
I don’t know what the answers are, but I do know something is not right when we syphon off those whose bodies can’t keep up with the frantic pace of contemporary living, and put them out of sight. Yes, of course we should be doing everything we can to make our aged care facilities better. But I have that uneasy sense that it’s not about doing things better, it’s about doing better things. There is an oldie but a goodie about innovation that says it is about putting two things together that don’t normally go together to see if they ‘stick’. Mostly they don’t stick, but sometimes they do – and an innovation is born. Sophie’s simple but potent idea of co-locating aged care and childcare could just be one of those system changing innovations.