Good health, lifelong learning, participation and security make up the four basic tenets that provide the key to ageing well, according to Adelaide’s Thinker in Residence, Professor Alexandre Kalache.
Given South Australia’s fast-ageing population, Dr Kalache’s findings indicate that our state could make for the perfect prototype of an urban environment that offers a quality lifestyle for ageing citizens.
“South Australia could be the prototype for many other regions across the globe, they may very well look to Adelaide, South Australia for inspiration,” Dr Kalache offers. “You are a relatively small place in terms of population, you’re rich even if you don’t believe it, and you have three thriving universities which is incredible. However, because you are ageing fast, this state is pretty much the mainland for being the oldest state in the country. If you consider all of this, put it together, and project it over the next 10 to 15 years, you’d see that this place could be the perfect location to experiment with initiatives and seriously consider the recommendations that this Thinker in Residence is proposing. My proposal is to put yourself at the centre of the Longevity Revolution, something that is possible due to the particular features of South Australia. These features are unique and, compared to other regions across the globe which are larger and more complex, Adelaide, South Australia is pretty much ideal as the prototype and could lead to other regions looking to you for inspiration.”
A world authority on ageing after spending over a dozen years at the World Health Organisation as head of the Ageing and Life Course Program (1995-2007), Dr Kalache was invited to introduce to Adelaide the concept of ‘age friendly cities’ and to explore how South Australia could become a society for all ages. Bringing with him innovative ideas which have already proved successful in Brazil, New York and other cities around the globe, Dr Kalache explains why the concept of ‘active ageing’ is so important for our state.
“We want to optimise the opportunities for security, participation, health and continuity of education. The essential areas in relation to this include housing, transport, civic participation, accessibility to public buildings and parks and job opportunities. If we start thinking about what we can do about this Longevity Revolution – the fact that we have another 30 years to live compared to previous generations – we can figure out how to make those extra 30 years meaningful and not seen as a burden. For example, one of the recommendations that I have given is that you need good policies that will support your society in moving forward by giving individuals of all ages opportunities. You can brush up on your skills or even learn new skills, even at 50. Instead of abrupt retirement you can continue to be relevant in your society by learning new skills.”
This recommendation is tied into another one, says Dr Kalache – that which encourages health professionals to focus just as much on the anatomy and medical practices of older people as on children. After all, a fast-ageing state means dealing increasingly with older patients.
“Look at how you’re training your medical professionals. Ageing is a fact of life but doctors are learning everything about child health when they will be dealing with older patients more and more. Individuals, as they age, will need more and more medical care, too. Without this, there will be frustration because doctors will be dealing with older patients without knowing how to treat them properly and there could be some instances rejection. If you don’t have the knowledge in that area, you’re more likely to make mistakes. My recommendation here is to look seriously into the training and curriculum in medicine and nursing.”
It is food for thought, as Dr Kalache puts it. Investing in South Australians’ health and quality of life from the very beginning leads to healthier, happier and more independent adults well into an older age.
“Research shows that the largest bulk of money that older people cost to the health sector is at the end of their last two years, both in terms of time and money. Those last two years are very expensive and we need to make those last two years happen with as much functional capacity as possible. I have made this point across to the Premier very clearly and I think he has taken it on board. I’d like for people to understand that for children to have any hope of success, you have to look at where the resources are being invested in those children. You have to provide good resources and develop good care and help them age well so they won’t be expensive as older people.”
Ageing is here to stay, Dr Kalache states, but it doesn’t have to be viewed as a burden on our society. As another recommendation, he says the next step should be to establish an International Longevity Centre as part of a global alliance that exchanges information between New York, Paris, Berlin and other locations around the world.
“I’m leaving behind people who are going to take these recommendations seriously and I believe there will be a response. Within the next six months we could see Adelaide becoming a vibrant new research centre for the Longevity Revolution.”