An ageing boom which is set to place new and untold pressures on the lives of carers in Australia needs to be faced up to now, a team of Griffith Business School researchers has claimed.
Professor Anneke Fitzgerald, Dr Nerina Vecchio and Dr Katrina Radford are leading a nationwide investigation into the future of respite care centres and the potential development of a revolutionary intergenerational model in this space.
“We’re looking at building an age-friendly community,” Professor Fitzgerald said. “We believe the quality of life of both young and old can be positively affected by mixing their care in an intergenerational setting.
“This is a very under-researched area but we know the health and wellbeing of older people can be maintained and improved through social interaction. There are also potential benefits to be explored for people with dementia who spend time with young children.”
The Griffith Business School team is examining a range of possible models for intergenerational care and gathering data and input from industry players such as childcare centre directors, aged care facility managers, consumers groups and policy makers to assess the economic viability of the proposal.
“Our preliminary study suggests there is a gap to be filled and we believe this is an innovative approach that could generate social capital rather than isolate a section of the population,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
“It could save the government a lot of money. It incorporates an important educational component while also helping to delay institutionalisation and slow cognitive decline.”
The numbers living with dementia are on the rise, with Australian figures keeping pace with the rest of the world. In 2010, there were 35.6 million globally living with dementia and this is forecast to climb to 65.7 million by 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050. In Australia the number is set to climb from 267,000 in 2011 to one million by 2050, a 375% increase.
A Federal Government Intergenerational Report released earlier this year predicted that 40,000 Australians will celebrate their 100th birthday in 2055. Babies born in 2055 will be expected to live well into their nineties.
“As the population continues to age we can expect a rising proportion of older people reporting living with a diagnosis of dementia,” Dr Vecchio said. “A person aged 80 years or over is almost eight times more likely to identify dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as their main long-term health condition in comparison to someone aged 65-79 years.
“The projections are conservative and we know that the increased numbers are going to have a major impact on the type of care services required in the future.”
As it stands, the take-up of respite care is relatively poor. But the imminent rise in numbers living with dementia is likely to change this situation dramatically.
“Carers of people with dementia need more care than any other carers. Respite care is an important service that creates a supportive environment for those caring for people living with dementia by providing them with a break from their caring responsibilities.
“Additional and alternative respite services will be needed in the future. Already the characteristics of existing services appear inadequate.
“Our aim is to create more choice for consumers in an environment where the options are very limited and where demand for the service is about to increase immensely.”
An across-the-board survey and the development of an industry-informed model of intergenerational care are now the focus of the Griffith research team.
“The idea of mixing young and old is not new, but the idea of mixing aged care and childcare in a formal program is in its infancy. In this respect we are trying to change social policy in Australia,” Dr Radford said.
Key issues to be negotiated include the development of workplace policy that accommodates both the healthcare (aged care) and education (childcare) sectors.