Life for older people should be more than just 'existing'

Longevity is a hot topic in Australia right now.

IRT Group chief executive Nieves Murray.

IRT Group chief executive Nieves Murray.

We continue to strive for advances in economic prosperity, lifestyle, nutrition and medical care that are already enabling Australians to live well into their 80s and 90s.

But have we now become so focused on keeping the Grim Reaper at bay, that we've forgotten why we want to live longer in the first place?

According to the latest Intergenerational Report, in 2054-55, nearly 2 million Australians will be aged 85 and over, including 40,000 aged over 100.

As governments and service providers race to adapt to an “older” Australia, we must remember that these “numbers” represent real people.

To truly “live” you need purpose and quality of life.

In my mind, just existing is no life at all, and many Australians in their very old age would agree with me.

What we need is a longevity revolution where older Australians stand up and say NO... I will not just “exist” ... I will be more than just a number ... I will live the life I choose.

I'm pleased to say the revolution has already begun.

Baby Boomers are demanding more choice and control over housing, financial support and care for their parents and themselves.

The federal government has reformed aged care funding to enable older Australians to choose the type of care and support they receive at home, there's more focus on reablement and wellbeing, and more demand for services that have been co-designed with older Australians themselves.

The time has come to move beyond the domain of policy makers and service providers, to revolutionise our communities and family units as well.

To enable older Australians to live in the heart of our social and economic networks, not just on the periphery.

To empower them to continue to contribute, to have purpose and to enjoy wellbeing into old age.

Solutions are all around us ... intergenerational housing, aged care communities in CBDs with child care services and student accommodation, skills-sharing, story-telling and active ageing initiatives, and supporting people to work into their 70s and even 80s, should they choose to.

I don't want to “overthrow” our youth, I want us to realise the potential of what we can achieve together.

At a recent IRT Foundation intergenerational debate, media icon Ita Buttrose and Triple J's Tom Tilley explored this issue and found that many shared concerns, like housing affordability, would be better addressed if people from different generations worked together.

So what can you do?

Are you a student who could learn from an older person?

Are you a loved one who could find a way for your grandparent or parent to be more connected with your family?

Are you an older person with something to teach, a spare room in your home to rent out, or time to volunteer in your community?

As a new year approaches, now is the perfect time to join the longevity revolution and commit to making a difference in your family or community.

Nieves Murray is chief executive of IRT Group, a community-based seniors lifestyle and care provider.