from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: staying fit without Aged Care

September 11. It’s been six months since our Australian society got into panic mode over Covid-19. At first, there was the rush to secure our food supplies. Rumours abounded. A little later, we worried about exercise. As organised sport, gyms and council programs were halted we Zoomed into gym sessions or went out and walked the parks and streets.

Over time in South Australia, we have been lucky enough to relax –  a lot. We can now play tennis, go to restaurants, cinemas, play bridge and have guests at home. We can travel within South Australia, the Northern Territory and fly to Queensland.

I have resumed attending weekly yoga lessons at our local council hub. As an older person, health has become something I worry about a little bit more than before. It’s not just issues around COVID-19, but a sense that we need to look after ourselves – after all we have co-morbidities. To this end, I decided to go extend my program by going to the Pilates class also offered at my council hub. Pilates teachers talk non-stop about the ‘core’: the weakening ‘core’ as we age! No doubt, my body is in decline. Yoga is not enough.

So, I attended my first Pilates class and I enjoyed it very much and hoped to continue. However, I was told I needed approval from My Aged Care; this Pilates class was subsidised by our Federal Government for older people to enjoy. All the other attendees looked of a similar age and fitness to myself. I felt I would fit in.

My Aged Care was introduced in July 2013 by our Federal Government. The idea is to make it easier for older people to be assessed and supported with various services. I think the plan is to keep people in their homes, as fit as possible and as long as possible, so that they do not burden the old age homes or the medical system.

I already had an Aged Care number which is readily given to people older than 65.

I mistakenly thought this would be a simple process: I would phone up and explain that I would like to attend the Pilates class (citing the need for ‘core’ strengthening!). Obviously, it would make me fitter and stronger and more able to stay in my own home for years to come, thus being less of a liability on the government. Logical.

Not so fast. The kind woman at Aged Care informed me that I would need an ‘assessment’ before they would approve me for this one hour, once a week, Pilates class.

I hoped that this could be done with a few simple questions conducted over the phone. No. An appointment was made for me for an assessment in my own home.

‘Did I have a dog?

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Please could the dog be locked up before the assessment’.

‘Sure,’ I said.

I was now in the system and I did not pull out  – also I was a little curious.

So last week, Trisha, from Aged Care, came to our house. She asked me to open the door (she did not want to touch the handle) and she made sure that we were socially distanced. I offered her tea or coffee. She said she was not allowed to have tea, coffee or even a glass of water. I told her that my almost toothless one-eyed Roy dog (desperate to greet her) was locked away. She said that the interview would take approximately one hour. I was bemused.

Trisha took out her laptop and said she had to go through the whole assessment. The questions were thorough – here are just a few of them: Did I have a social life? Friends? What did I do with my time? What kids did we have and where were they? Did we talk to them? Could I shower myself? Did I have handrails in the shower? She counted all our steps in the house. Could she see our bathroom? (That surprised me). Could I drive and shop on my own? Could I cook? What pain symptoms did I have? Did I have my own teeth? What medication did I take? Did I use pill boxes? etc ….

Forty-five minutes, later Trisha told me, apologising profusely, that she could not give me a ‘package’ because if she gave me a package someone else would not be able to have one.

‘You are fit,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry – you are not isolated.’

I lamely said I did not want a package. I just wanted to attend Pilates and was happy to pay the federal government extra part of the cost ($10). Uh-huh! No way was this possible.

Trisha left after telling me that I should be pleased that I was ‘on the system’ because if anything happened to me, they had all the data about my life!!! They sure did!

The kind of services My Aged Care offer to elderly people is impressive. I had had no idea of the range and scale of the support offered. I must say that we are lucky to live in a society that has put in place such services. But I am somewhat horrified by the bureaucracy that it involves. And its inflexibility.

Recently, I read the Economist magazine’s special feature on dementia where they reported on this looming world-wide crisis. I wonder for how long Australia can afford to support their ageing population in the Aged Care way. In 2107, 15% of our population was 65 and over. (9% in 1977). Growing steadily. People are living longer as well. Our Federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, says our ageing population is ‘an economic time bomb’.

Never fear. I can go to my Next Generation club – further away – for Pilates classes but it’s not so friendly and filled with lithe young mothers in Nike and Lululemon lycra gear. So be it. I am quite pleased that I was rejected for an Aged Care package. Obviously, I am too fit, too busy. For the moment.

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