Older Australians facing death with little support: Dr 5



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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.

“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.

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.

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.

“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?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I agree there should be more education & training at school for this subject , however my Mum at almost 86 died naturally at home in her sleep and her house was full of Police like as though we had murdered her . It was the end of a Police shift and as one lot left another lot arrived . Surely Police need some training also as it was most uncomfortable having their constant presence at this sad time . Mr brother died in hospital and it was a simple procedure .

    1 REPLY
    • My mother passed away in a nursing home last Monday – she was 95. Up until two years ago she was living in her own home and was able. She then had a fall (into hospital and then out) and we set about changing her simple duplex over so that she could remain capable – this worked for a short while. My sister and I prior had bought the duplex next door so that we could keep and eye on her. She then had another fall (in and out of hospital again). We could not lift her and we did not have the 24hr nursing skills, so it was agreed (she did too) to go into a nursing home. She started with a walking stick, then a walker and finally a wheelchair and only in the last three weeks was bedridden. The round the clock care was excellent, funded by us renting out her house and supplemented by her pension. In conclusion mum was capable until the last eighteen months and in that respect we were all able to help and manage her situation.

  2. Considering the way the elderly are treated when in hospital, dying anywhere else would be preferable. The staff usually resent their presence for taking up a bed that could be used by a “sick” person and they get sent home before they are really well enough.

  3. All of this is nothing new! Turning 60 was a fearful notion simply knowing I am now regarded as redundant , put him in a corner and make him comfortable ’till the end comes either by nature or science

  4. my impression is that Chinese people prefer to buy new homes because they are superstitious of ghosts – angry ghosts can cause all sorts of trouble – so they don’t want to buy a house where someone may have died – they have processes for knocking down old buildings and leaving the land vacant for a year or several to clear the ghosts.

    So I’m guessing Chinese may not really prefer to have people dying at home.

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