What does the future of ageing look like?

With the highest proportion of older people on mainland Australia, South Australia is uniquely positioned to lead how we redesign ageing for better lives. In partnership with the Office for Ageing Well, we listened to thousands of older people and consolidated what we heard into three strategic priorities necessary to reinvent how we age.

When we picture the future of ageing in South Australia, we envision a community that makes everyone feel welcome, no matter their age.

A community where everyone lives a fulfilling life, where age is no barrier to doing whatever they value, where people are respected and valued for their experience, contributions and ideas.

In this future, we’ve moved beyond a narrow view of ageing, and our attitudes and beliefs have shifted because our neighbourhoods have evolved to foster connection. There are community-led approaches to sharing life, ageing and dying, and the systems around us have evolved to provide options for everyone, no matter the life changes they encounter.

It’s this vision that forms the crux of our report, the Vision for Ageing Well in South Australia, which we produced in collaboration with the Office for Ageing Well.

Lady holding a post-it note

To understand how older South Australians feel about ageing, we listened to more than 1,700 older people, plus the organisations that work with and for them.

We trained 18 older South Australians to speak with 75 of their peers about what it means to age well, and invited the general public to share their thoughts via two half-day workshops. We also conducted two online surveys – which together received over 1,600 responses – and ran nine in-depth interviews and four workshops with thought-leaders and key stakeholders across industry and sector. Across state and local government, NGOs, peak bodies and community groups, we also received 30 responses to an interactive community response kit.

This work has led to hundreds of insights, which we consolidated into three strategic priorities:

1. There’s no place like home

As we get older, our needs change, but our housing options don’t reflect this. “When a person can no longer live in their own home independently, they really only have two pathways available to them: either move in with family or into an aged care facility,” says Brugh O’Brien, a TACSI principal who has been a key contributor throughout this work. “From listening to older people, we know many don’t want to live in aged care. We also know the business models of many residential aged care facilities are becoming increasingly unliveable in a market where people are wanting to stay in their own home as long as possible,” he says. “So, we need to create a new future of possibilities capable of responding to the needs of everyone, including service providers.”

Another important insight that emerged from the research is that having a good life is closely related to how safe we feel. “We’ve built relationships, and we know how these areas work,” says Brugh. “So this whole idea of taking someone out of their comfort zone, the place they call home, often against their own wishes, and into somewhere new and unfamiliar is completely counterproductive to living a good life. The whole idea of There’s No Place Like Home is for people to understand how important it is to create a home on our own terms, and for all of us to think, act and work more broadly about how we can make this a reality for people, no matter our age.”

To achieve this future, we need to invest in:

  • More accessible services and support systems that make existing homes flexible to people’s changing needs
  • More homes that suit a greater diversity of people’s needs
  • More affordable and accessible home

“To stay in community means everything to me. I’ve grown up here since I was a baby and my whole life is here. Home, it’s where we belong.”

Participant

2. Meaningful connections

“We continue to hear that our neighbourhoods and communities are important spaces that give us purpose, meaning and a sense of belonging,” says Brugh. “But our neighbourhoods aren’t what they once were. Shops and services are moving out to larger hubs, our lives are shifting online and the design of our homes now prioritise privacy. These changes mean less time connecting with and contributing to the people who live around us,” he says.

Man holding a post-it note

Another common thread was the need to continue making meaningful contributions, no matter our age. “You never lose the need to have a purpose in life,” says Brugh. “As a society, though, we’re collectively ageist, and the older we get the less society perceives us as having anything meaningful to contribute.” We also heard that older people would like to keep working – and have more flexible working options – but that they constantly face discrimination. “We’ve got people with whole lifetimes of experience that we could be benefiting from,” says Brugh.

To achieve this future, we need to invest in:

  • Neighbourhoods that people feel invested in and connected to (and vice versa)
  • Diverse options for continual growth and meaningful contribution
  • Access to transport that isn’t a barrier for connection and contribution

“I feel a sense of vulnerability. If my partner died I wouldn’t have connections. He has more connections in the community.”

Participant

3. Navigating change

From relationship breakdowns to retirement, health scares and loss of independence, change is a significant and inevitable part of becoming older. “For most of our lives, we’re pretty good at planning for changes we know are going to happen, like having kids and moving house,” says Brugh. “But for some reason as we get older, it’s suddenly out of sight out of mind. So collectively, we need to get better at how we move and transition through change, because the experience is often worse than it needs to be because we’re not planning.”

Throughout our conversations, it became clear that our ability to navigate change is greatly affected by the strength of our resilience. “Fundamentally, most of our services are designed to react in response to a crisis, whereas building resilience is really about investing proactively in the strength or capability of the person’s resilience system,” says Brugh. “So, there’s a switch that needs to be made from responding to things that happen to us, to investing in resilience, strengths and capabilities that can help people navigate change better.”

To achieve this future, we need to invest in:

  • Services and support systems that focus on what’s important to the person
  • Better access to the support that builds people’s resilience and ability to cope with difficult transitions
  • Systems and bureaucracies that offers options, choice, flexibility and outcomes

“I worry most about coping with loneliness should my partner die or is placed in a nursing home or similar.”

Participant

To realise our vision for ageing well in South Australia, we have to work together in new ways, with people who think differently to ourselves.

 

No one organisation can do this alone, and by coming together we can each bring passion, experience, connections and resources to the table. Through shared demonstration and learning, we can make sure our resources are focused towards actions capable of creating better outcomes for South Australians, no matter our age.

Interested in finding out more about the future of ageing?