A group of citizens has formed a new alliance to get all levels of government, business, NGOs and residents to focus more on older people and work together to make the Hunter an age-friendly community.
Hunter Ageing Alliance spokesperson, and geriatrician, Dr John Ward said there was not enough attention on meeting the needs of the growing number of elderly locals.
The alliance has been meeting with key groups, including through a forum of 50 political, business and community leaders last month, to gain agreement on the problems, priorities and a way forward.
People older than 65 will soon make up a quarter of the region’s population and the number of people over 85 will double in the next 20 years.
Dr Ward said the Royal Commission on Quality and Safety in Aged Care had shone a spotlight on the crisis in residential aged care as well as home and community care.
The number of older homeowners is declining and the number of older women becoming homeless is growing.
Social housing stock is declining and waiting lists can be more than 10 years.
He said ageing issues were far greater than aged care and accommodation.
“Ageism and the organisation of communities is denying older people of their right to be physically, intellectually, socially and sexually active,” Dr Ward said.
“Some people living alone are lonely for substantial parts of the week and depression is common.
“Facilities, events and infrastructure are often not designed with the needs of older people in mind.”
One of the alliance’s solutions is for the region to become a World Health Organisation (WHO) Age Friendly Community.
The WHO has produced a guide, and established a global support network, around eight areas that cities and communities can address to better adapt their structures and services to the needs of older people: the built environment, transport, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication, and community support and health services.
“We can use this proven framework to rise above the blame game and tokenism and take action to promote healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for older people,” Dr Ward said.
“We need new types of low-cost, supportive, housing and aged care, particularly to accommodate those with a disability or dementia.
“There are programs that can reduce social isolation and loneliness and build resilience.
“Older people make an important contribution to our community.
“They deserve better and with proper focus and will, we can better support them to be healthy, independent and autonomous long into their old age.
“We all need to commit to playing our part and we can show other communities how to age well.”
Using the WHO Guide, the alliance will hold stakeholder workshops and a public meeting in the coming months to help the region obtain Aged Friendly Community status.
For further information or to join the Alliance visit www.hunterageingalliance.com