I recently spent a week in Melbourne caring for my mother who had just had a hip replacement. At 75, Mum is generally fit and healthy, and as a single mother she is incredibly independent. So it was a real a shock for me to see her in a vulnerable position, in need of support and care.
Realising our parents aren’t infallible is one of the most difficult aspects of adulthood.
It was all the more difficult for me knowing that at the end of the week I would be returning home - some 700km away. While I have two sisters in Melbourne, they are both busy with their own families, and I can’t help but feel an element of guilt at not being closer myself.
I am comforted knowing that Mum is active and engaged in her local community.
Because I am often contacted by elderly Canberrans who are unhappy in their older age - unhappy with their living arrangements, with what they perceive as a diminished role or standing in the community, or unhappy as a result of the loss of loved ones.
I am also lucky enough to meet many Canberrans who are happy and healthy in their later years. In an ageing society, we need to ensure there are more people in this category.
It’s up to us as a community to actively engage with the elderly – be it school visits to aged care centres or ensuring we have the right community services. And I commend Canberra organisations like the Men’s Sheds, the Council Of The Ageing, U3A, the Tuggeranong 55 Plus Club and other seniors groups who are already providing wonderful services.
Of course, there is also a role for government. We need to do a better job of planning for our elderly. This means ensuring social housing and aged care facilities are located in the heart of the community, near shops and schools, and that they allow for the transition of ageing.
Australia is ageing and Canberra is ageing. We need to rethink how we treat and engage with the elderly if we are to get the best out of our community at every stage of their lives.