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Age-friendly communities can help older people reach ‘untapped’ potential

Aged care providers have a role to play in building age-friendly communities and promoting social inclusion for seniors, according to a leading aged care provider.

Helping to build age-friendly communities that promote accessiblity, employment opportunities and social participation has been a longstanding goal of the IRT Group, says CEO Nieves Murray.

The IRT Foundation’s community grants program is targeted at initiatives that improve the lives of older people, and the organisation has formed an alliance with four Illawarra councils to incorporate age-friendly principles within public planning, such as affordable housing and accessible buildings.

Ms Murray said that age should not be a hindrance to accessing services or participating in social or civic life, and should be considered irrelevant in terms of what contribution people can make.

“Often when they leave the workforce, or their children and grandchildren move on, older people feel they’ve lost their purpose. It’s untapped potential,” Ms Murray told Australian Ageing Agenda ahead of her presentation at the Arts Health Institute’s upcoming The Future of Ageing conference where she will discuss age-friendly environments.

“Age-friendly communities and social inclusion reinvigorate people and give them a sense of worth,” she said.

Nieves Murray

Nieves Murray

Aged care providers had a role to play in bolstering social inclusion by providing opportunities for residents to participate in the broader community, said Ms Murray. This could include taking residents outside the facility to enjoy entertainment options, rather than hosting them on site, and she noted the growing emergence of intergenerational programs in the sector as another step in the right direction.

Ms Murray said IRT had gained development approval for a new independent living complex in the centre of the Wollongong CBD, which would have a public outdoor plaza with cafes and a rose garden. She hoped the plaza would become a local hub allowing for “spontaneous opportunity” for intergenerational interaction.

Enabling older people to maintain independence was another key principle of an age-friendly community, and in this vein IRT has worked with the University of Wollongong at its Woonona facility to design a familiar environment for those with dementia.

For example, each room of the facility had a distinctly different door, so residents can easily identify different where they are. Ms Murray hoped to showcase this work as some of the priniciples used could also be applied to public buildings in the community.

More to do in mature-age workforce participation

The kind of discrimination older people often faced when looking for work was “palpable example” of how age could exclude people from civic life, said Ms Murray.

Last July, the IRT Foundation partnered with the Human Rights Commission to sign a ‘statement of intent’ to collaborate on a range of pilot projects to boost mature age workforce participation. The provider recently hosted a roundtable in the Illawarra, showcasing organisations who have promoted mature workforce participation, and providing opportunities for others to see what can be done and how it can work.

“We have some great examples of older workers mentoring younger workers in the workplace, in office jobs and care jobs,” said Ms Murray. “We’ve found older people who have come back into the workforce after a period of retirement have different motivators and contribute to the organisation positively.”

Ms Murray noted the benefits of age-friendly communities are not just for older people themselves. Accessible public transport, for example, was helpful not just for seniors with impaired mobility but also for people with prams.

“An age friendly community isn’t just about addressing the needs of an older population, it’s about creating communities where people can ambulate and live without barriers,” said Ms Murray.

The Future of Ageing National Play Up Convention, hosted by the Arts Health Institute, will be held 14-15 March in Sydney. Australian Ageing Agenda is a conference media partner.

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