House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Elderly Citizens

Ms PRATT (Frome) (15:27): Today, I rise to speak about an important but sometimes forgotten or looked-over group of people, and that is our ageing and elderly population. Ageing is a triumph of modern medicine, and for the first time in human history in both the developed and developing world people are living longer lives. This is particularly relevant to us in SA, as we have seen the highest proportion of older people on mainland Australia living in this state.

I see this as a great opportunity. It must mean that we are more experienced, it must mean that we are more mature, and, if we are living longer, then it must mean we are healthier too. Ageing should not imply a withdrawal from society but in fact quite the opposite. Older people are vital community members as carers and neighbours, as consumers, as volunteers and, indeed, as workers.

More than ever before, our seniors are indispensable as citizens, consumers, carers, volunteers and members of our community. In my own electorate of Frome, so much of the history of our region and our current way of life could not continue without the work of our older community members, and I thank them for it. From leadership in progress associations, agricultural shows, to community outreach programs like volunteer drivers for the unwell, we are tremendously fortunate.

For our older population, this time of life should afford men and women who have worked hard all their life the chance to enjoy their freedom and their families, for those who can. It should afford them the opportunity to be comfortable in their own home—whatever that may look like—to be free from worry and free from attack from the government, from their children, sadly, and from carers or strangers.

The majority of over 65s live independently at home, with only one in four people aged 85 and over living in aged-care accommodation in South Australia. But it is incredibly confronting to read this week, following the release of new data by Adelaide researchers, that in Australia the suicide rate among men aged 85 and older is three times that observed in the general population.

Researchers for the first time are looking at the number of people aged over 65 who are ending their own lives before accessing aged-care services. In a largely overlooked statistic, older adults record the highest age-specific suicide rate of any age group in most countries. The research showed that fewer than 20 per cent of the older people who died by suicide received any Medicare-subsidised mental health service in the year before their death. Effectively preventing suicide in older adults does require multicomponent interventions that target social isolation, clinical symptoms, access to lethal methods, stigmatising help-seeking and access to those important services.

It is also important to acknowledge while discussing ageing the disparity between ageing in metropolitan areas versus regional South Australia. All members representing regional areas in this place would be acutely aware of the challenges our communities face to sustain facilities for people to age well locally and to recruit allied health works. All levels of government play a role in bridging this gap and supporting individuals to age well in the regions.

So I extend my thanks to a number of organisations that continue to advocate and provide support to our ageing South Australians: Council on the Ageing SA, Aged Rights Advocacy Service and ARIIA (Aged Care Research & Industry Innovation Australia), funded by the former Coalition for $30 million in research. I note the amalgamation of aged care homes in Hamley Bridge and Balaklava in my electorate and the fabulous work by volunteers in the Mid North Community Passenger Network. Uniting Communities, AnglicareSA, Centacare, Carers SA, Multicultural Aged Care, Dementia Australia and the South Australian Retirement Villages Residents' Association all contribute to providing essential services.

While the statistics for some of our elderly population does look grim, I do want to celebrate the opportunities we all have to age well because we live in South Australia. Once we turn 50 years of age, we become seniors. I am not there yet, but lots of concessions are unlocked at that time, and people should make the most of it. This cohort are still at work. They are still fit. They are just hitting their stride in their careers. At a time when we are experiencing a national workforce shortage, I am paying close attention to comments coming out of National Seniors Australia, where current taxation barriers are preventing older Australians from returning to work lest they lose their pension. I want to recognise our older and ageing community and tell them to keep going and keep volunteering.