Older Australians facing death with little support: Dr

Thinking about your death is not something you really want to dwell on as you get older.

But have you ever thought about how the hospital system will deal with the increasing population of older Australians?

Well, one palliative care doctor has – and he’s warning of a “silver tsunami” of people facing death with little infrastructure in place to cope with the number.

Dr B. J. Miller is in Australia to speak at the NSW Palliative Car Association conference next Saturday.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald he believed a huge workforce of potential carers could be trained, paid and supported to keep people out of hospitals and allow them to die in their own homes.

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“Hospitals are no place to live and die, that’s not what they were designed for,” he said

“There is a distinction between a disease-centred and a patient-centred model of care, and here is where caring can become both creative and less expensive.”

Dr Miller also spoke at a University of Sydney lecture titled ‘Dying Re-imagined: designing a better way to die’ on Thursday.

He was joined by professor of palliative care medicine Rod MacLeod and professor of palliative care nursing Kate White.

Now, if you’ve ever wanted to just die at home – then you’re not alone.

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Professor MacLeod said 80% of people in surveys expressed a wish to die at home.

“Fourteen to 16 per cent manage to do it,” he said.

But, he pointed to a way your desire to die at home could be reality.

A NSW Health-funded consortium to help people die at home has already provided care for 1700 people with voluntary workers.

73% of those people had achieved their goal of dying at home, according to Professor MacLeod.

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Professor White on the other hand is suggesting younger people should be taught in school about death, like they’re taught sex education.

“Imagine having a unit at high school where students were taught how to support someone at home, or support a family,” she said.

“They don’t need to provide personal carer, but maybe they could be helping out in the home.”

So, why the big talk about death?

Well, according to Dr Miller, society is starting to fear death differently to previous generations.

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“Society used to be more agrarian and never far away from the cycles of life,” he said.

“People saw animals dying, children dying at childbirth, from sickness. You couldn’t seduce yourself that you were somehow not part of nature, most knew death was not this exotic affair that it has become.

“We are wired to run away from the subject but it’s changing.

“Climate change reminds us we are captive of the natural world. We thought we were independent. But the sheer volume of Baby Boomers has reawakened the idea that nature wins.”

What do you think? Should more people be supported so they can die at home?