Category Archives: Australia

Australia is the smallest of the seven continents and part of the region known as Oceania. This region comprises the Australian continent and various islands in the Pacific Ocean that are not included in the seven-continent model. For geographical purposes, we will explore the countries of Oceania.

Can the Arts Promote Health-Related Quality of Life in Australia?

As the global population ages, it is important to start designing strategies to address quality of life among older adults. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Designing programs and policies to encourage quality of life across the age spectrum should not focus solely on addressing health issues as they arise, but rather promoting positive ways of living that can impact health in all realms – physical, mental, and social – throughout one’s life.

Strategies for healthy aging should include promoting activities that foster both individual growth and community participation. One such option is participation in the arts, which has shown to have a positive impact on both the individual and society.

Studies have shown that participating in visual arts, music, dance, drama, storytelling, etc. can improve mental and physical well-being, provide increased opportunities for friendship and meaningful social contact, foster a sense of social cohesion between different age groups, and break down stigmas associated with aging.

In Australia, several initiatives have been put in place to encourage “creative ageing,” which is defined as “the utilisation of the arts to excite imagination and support older people to age well.” For example, creative ageing was included in the Eastern Australian state of New South Wales’ Ageing Strategy, where community-based organizations such as the Creative Ageing Centre and Institute for Creative Health were established to encourage older adults to engage in the arts.

Results from the 2014 report titled Arts in Daily Life: Australian Participation in the Arts showed that participation in the arts increased from 41 percent to 48 percent since community arts centers became part of health policy. Among adults aged 55-64, participation increased from 36 percent to 44 percent.

The number of Australians aged 65 and over is expected to increase to 6.2 million by 2042, up from an estimated 3.4 million in 2014. Australia’s population is ageing. Now, more than ever, is the time to think creatively about aging and how these innovative strategies can have positive effects beyond for both the individual as well as society as a whole.

Diana Kingsbury is a doctoral student and graduate assistant in prevention science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

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Does Participation in Organized Sports Help Australia’s Older People?

With the conclusion of the Summer Olympics last month, there is an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments and physical prowess of the athletes who competed. Sports and wellness are important for the human body especially given the decreasing participation rates in physical activity and increasing rates of chronic disease worldwide.

While the benefits of regular participation in physical activity on both physical and mental health have been widely established, participation rates remain low among older adults. It has been shown that participation in organized sports typically peaks in early adulthood and steadily decreases as a person ages. In addition, when viewed in light of gender, men typically report higher levels of participation in sport compared to women, regardless of age.

In Australia, the participation rate in organized sports among older adults is estimated at around 6.8 percent for males aged 55 to 64 and 8.9 percent among females 55-64. Among men 65 and older, participation in sport is estimated around 9.1 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women. Though rates are low, the benefits of regular participation in sports for older adults have been identified. In a 2012 cohort study, it was shown that older adults who participated in popular organized sports experienced a 20-40 percent reduction in all-cause mortality compared with older adults who did not participate in sports. Social benefits of participation in organized sports also include decreased feelings of isolation and reports of stronger support systems, two important contributors to quality of life in older adults.

The benefits of participation in organized sports are many, however, it is important to address potential barriers that might prevent an older adult from getting involved. While one third of older adults who report they are physically active are participating in organized sports in some form, older adults who are not commonly report lack of time, lack of opportunity, and physical limitations as reasons why they do not. It has been acknowledged within Australia that creating more opportunities for older adults to participate in organized sports through targeted programming should be a priority.

There is an opportunity to engage older adults both physically and socially through organized sports. Perceived barriers should be addressed to make physical activity through organized sports accessible to older adults.

Diana Kingsbury is a doctoral student and Graduate Assistant in Prevention Science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

Health Profile of Older Adults in Tasmania

Photo Credit: Stefano Lubiana
Photo Credit: Stefano Lubiana

Tasmania (Pop. 517,000) is an isolated island located off Australia’s Southern Coast. It is the smallest of six states in Australia, with an area of about 26,410 square miles. When considering the demographic makeup of Tasmania compared to Australia as a whole, Tasmania has the second oldest population (after South Australia), where 18.4 percent of the population is aged 60 years and over. However, when compared to other Australian states and territories, the Tasmania’s population is aging more rapidly than any other state.

Recent estimates projected the majority of population growth in Tasmania to occur in older age groups over the next 10 years. By 2019, it is expected that Tasmania will have the oldest population in Australia, where roughly 25 percent of the population will be 60 years and older. Such estimates help society to understand and respond to the needs of older adults living in Tasmania, ensuring that elders maintain good health and positive aging experiences.

In the Health Indicators Tasmania 2013 report, people aged 60 and over reported high levels of social support. 75.7 percent of seniors reported that they were in good, very good or excellent health and few (9.0 percent) reported that they currently experienced very high or high levels of psychological distress.

Of the health issues of concern, arthritis ranked highest, with 52.8% of Tasmanians aged 60 and older self-reporting they had been diagnosed with arthritis, followed by cataracts at 28.6%, depression/anxiety at 19.1%, heart disease at 18%, and cancer at 17.2%. In terms of behaviors that can improve personal health, 96.1% of older adults reported they had received a blood pressure screening in the past 2 years, 82.3% reported they had received a cholesterol check, and 76.5% reported they had received a diabetes test. Of the screenings that were reported, only 38.7% reported they had received a bowel cancer screening, which could be a target for future public health action. When reporting fruit and vegetable consumption, smoking status, and alcohol consumption, older adults were more likely to report they consumed fruits and vegetables, were less likely to smoke, and less likely to consume alcohol when compared to other segments of the adult population.

It is important to consider, however, how these indicators may vary by region within Tasmania, and also, how the health of younger segments of the adult population may impact their future health as older adults.

Diana Kingsbury covers Australia for Global Health Aging. She is a doctoral student and Graduate Assistant in Prevention Science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

Strategies to Promote Positive Aging in New Zealand

 Photo Credit: Dunedin Public Libraries

Photo Credit: Dunedin Public Libraries

Much like elsewhere in the Western world, the population in New Zealand is aging; the number of people over 65 has doubled since 1980, and is expected to double once again by 2036. This increase in the aging population is largely the result of a rising life expectancy, as it is estimated that the average individual in New Zealand now lives up to 81.16 years of age – an increase from 78.64 years since 2000.

It is therefore important, now more than ever before, to promote strategies that improve quality of life among the aging. Creating policies that promote health across the life-span can enhance the physical, social, and functional mobility of the aging, and could have far-reaching positive impact.

One such strategy, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is Aging in Place, which refers to “the ability to live in one’s own home or community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.” Research shows that aging in place is linked to health and emotional benefits, and the opportunity for families, governments, and health systems to make considerable cost savings, as compared to placing older people in traditional institutional care.

In an attempt to support these strategies, the Ministry of Social Development in New Zealand created the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy in 2001, which seeks to promote “a society where people can age positively, where older people are highly valued, and where they are recognized as an integral part of families and communities.” The Positive Ageing Strategy promotes ten goals to improve the quality of life of older adults, including:

  • Improved Health: Promoting equitable, timely, affordable, and accessible health services for older people.
  • Aging in the Community: Ensuring older people feel safe and secure, and can age in the community.
  • Opportunities for Growth: Increasing opportunities for personal growth and community participation for older adults.

According to a 2015 annual report about the Positive Ageing Strategy, there have been many successes in implementing this policy. These include an increase in the number of senior health programs as well as movement toward increasing the number of health care workers available and trained to care for the aging.

There has been additional success in providing elder abuse and neglect prevention services, providing support to those who serve as caregivers for the elderly through the New Zealand Carers’ Strategy Action Plan, and presenting local solutions to combat social isolation.

Finally, strides have been made to connect older and younger people to promote understanding between age groups; implement positive aging strategies in local communities; and provide opportunities for older people to advocate for their needs and well-being within the government.

With a projected rise in the aging population over the next couple of decades in New Zealand, promoting  policies that support aging in place can have a significant positive impact on the quality of life of the aging.

Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

Exercise, Hip Hop-eration and the Impact of Dance on New Zealand’s Elderly

As people age, body systems and cognitive functional abilities decline at various levels. A person’s mobility is also compromised, making it hard to maintain balance, strength and stability. It is widely known that exercise contributes to increased longevity as well as a diverse range of benefits that promote optimal and holistic health for all.

The effectiveness of frequent physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of falls, strengthen muscles and promote regeneration within the body. Universal exercise guidelines suggest that multi-modal or varied forms of physical activity are the most appropriate for older people. Multi-modal programs for this population generally include cardiovascular training, strengthening exercises, and flexibility and balance workouts.

Photo Credit: Justin C.
Photo Credit: Justin C.

In New Zealand, there is a hip hop street-dance group comprising seven older adults ranging from age 71 to 96. Called the world’s oldest dance group by Guinness World Records, Hip Op-eration Crew are the current world title holders, performing hip hop dance to promote positive attitudes to ageing. The group has various disabilities including blindness, deafness, arthritis and heart disease but dancing helps to manage these conditions as any kind of physical activity benefits overall health.

When a person exercises, the brain releases chemicals called endorphins to fight stress. “These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria”, according to Fast Company. So exercise produces endorphins that make people feel good. This is important because older people who are struggling with confidence or low spirits can implement an exercise routine as recommended by their doctor.

To date, Hip Op-eration has garnered positive responses worldwide including features in news media. The group was founded in 2012 by Billie Jordan who also manages the crew. In fact, the group are neighbours from Waiheke Island of New Zealand who use hip hop dance to form stronger connections with young people. Jordan recently gave an inspirational Ted Talk that was followed by a performance from Hip Op-eration. The crew has also performed and/ or competed at other events including:

  • New Zealand National Hip Hop Championships in 2013 and 2014
  • World Hip-Hop Dance Championship in 2013
  • Taipei Arena, Taiwan to an audience of 15,000 in 2014

These achievements have resulted in a documentary called “Hip Hop-eration” which chronicles the group’s memorable adventures including their performance at the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Las Vegas.

Hip Hop-eration won two Moa awards for Best Documentary and Best Director as well as glowing reviews from newspapers in New Zealand. The crew shows that a person is never too old to have fun and exercise is important for older people with or without disabilities. As the founders of Hip Hop believed, it is not about limitations but about possibilities – regardless of age or physical ability. Check out the trailer for Hip Hop-eration!

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/ Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.

The Health Plight of Older Refugees in Australia

Since World War II, Australia has taken in an estimated 675,000 refugees and is ranked among the world’s top countries for refugee resettlement. As of 2015, there were 35,582 refugees living in Australia.

Photo Credit: migrationmuseum
Photo Credit: migrationmuseum

Classified by the United Nations as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country,” a refugee faces a plethora of stresses – many even after resettlement – that adversely affect his health and well-being.

Increased risks for infectious and chronic diseases, post-traumatic stress disorder, and difficulties accessing necessary health-related services are some of the widespread effects of living in refugee settlements, being exposed to war or persecution and learning to navigate foreign cultural contexts. These effects are significantly exacerbated in older refugees.

In Australia, there are two categories of older refugees – individuals who were over the age of 60 upon resettlement, and individuals who resettled as young people and aged in Australia. While data is limited, some studies have shown that older refugee populations fare worse than their native counterparts.

Specific health conditions identified as a concern for older refugees include age-related memory problems, psychological health status, physical health needs, and social isolation. While these problems may seem related to elders in general, their effects are particularly pronounced among refugees.

To add to this issue, the health needs of the elderly in times of conflict are also often overlooked. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees explains that “lack of mobility, weakened vision and chronic illnesses such as arthritis and rheumatism (issues typically face by older adults) can make access to support difficult, and aid services often do not take these issues into consideration.”

The crisis that compels individuals to seek asylum and resettlement in other countries are often physically, mentally, and emotionally traumatic. Elderly individuals often suffer great upheaval and are at greater risk of experiencing social isolation and separation from family upon their displacement.

We are at a point in history where we are seeing the largest number of refugees ever since World War II. In order to address the needs of older refugees in Australia as well as elsewhere in the world, it is crucial that policy makers consider refugees as a distinct group in need of specific services that are unique from the rest of the population. It is also important to consider the needs of refugees across their entire lifespans and across stages of resettlement.

Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

Integrating Alternative Medicine with Geriatric Care in Australia

In the last 20 years, aromatherapy in geriatric care has grown extensively especially in the Oceania region. This treatment uses plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. Age-related conditions such as dementia and arthritis as well as respiratory diseases, blood pressure and skin changes can benefit greatly from aromatherapy.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

A survey from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) identified significant use of self-prescribed complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for back pain regardless of education, income or urban/rural residency. CAM was among a range of care options but the study found that a large number of women aged 60-65 self-prescribed one or more CAM for back pain in the previous 12 months. The most common self-prescribed CAM was supplements, vitamins/minerals, yoga/meditation, herbal medicines and aromatherapy oils.

It was further noted that women who visited health professionals three or more times in the previous 12 months were more likely to self-prescribe CAM for back pain than those who did not. This study was useful in exploring the prevalence and characteristics of women who self-prescribe CAM for back pain. Medical professionals can integrate alternative medicine with geriatric care to treat ailments and improve quality of life for older adults.

While aromatherapy helps with a number of diseases, studies have mixed results when it comes to treating agitated behaviour in people with dementia. One study found that lavender oil had no discernible effect on affect and behaviour in Australian nursing home residents while another study reported that despite a downward trend in behaviours displayed, no intervention significantly reduced disruptive behaviour. These findings are important because older adults respond differently to alternative medicine. Individual needs must be considered and health professionals can assess the effectiveness of CAM.

Aromatherapy is a great way to manage symptoms of a chronic illness or relieve age-related discomfort. For instance, complementary therapy in palliative care such as Massage/aromatherapy, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch™ enhances regular symptom management, increases comfort, and more. This can help support the immune system as people get older. Aromatherapy is becoming increasingly popular especially since it improves quality of life during the aging process.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

Music and Memory: How Radio Stations Impact the Health of Older Australians

Older Australians represent a significant proportion of individuals with diverse ethnicities, cultures and religious backgrounds. This increasing population requires different interventions and programs to break down language and cultural barriers, hence music plays an important role. From love songs to memorable music from TV shows, music represents certain moments in time that are rooted in the minds of individuals, despite forgetting the occasions. It appeals to a person’s most inner self and holds a special place in people from all works of life.

Photo Credit: William Li
                                                                                Photo Credit: William Li

While music can trigger positive thoughts and memories, the use of speech, song, memory, cognition, intellect, creative imagination and expressive motoric responses may be activated and developed in therapy, both as new means of self-expression and as a therapeutic goal. Music improves both health and well-being, therefore people with no musical background or prior skill can benefit from music therapy. For instance, patients with dementia can gain from music reminiscence therapy, a non-pharmacological approach to managing symptoms and behaviours of dementia such as agitation and wandering.

Various studies have shown that older adults are found to respond most positively to repertoire that was popular when they were in their early 20s and 30s, stimulating long-term memories. In Australia, Silver Memories helps residents remember their youth and early stages of adulthood. The new nostalgia radio station is for older adults who are lonely and socially isolated in the community, especially residents of aged care homes. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides therapeutic benefits to people with dementia, since research has shown that the service is a unique approach in managing the effects of dementia – the first of its kind. Now the radio station has been rolled out to numerous aged care homes in Australia using satellite technology. The video below includes an excerpt from a documentary called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/ Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.

Homelessness Among Older Women in Australia

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan
                                                                                 Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan

According to the 2011 Australian Census, 36 percent of the older homeless population comprises of women. While men are more likely to experience homelessness across their lifespans in Australia, women are more likely to first experience homelessness after the age of 50. Issues of homelessness among older women in Australia have been described as a symptom of entrenched social and economic issues that compound, and then implode later in life. Financial disadvantages, often caused by poor educational opportunities and/or work history may be setting the stage for homelessness among older Australian women.

Other factors influencing this problem include pay gaps between men and women (which have been noted to be as high as 17-18 percent over the span of a career), poor superannuation savings for retirement, domestic problems (such as divorce, separation, or domestic violence), personal health crises, and a lack of affordable housing. Due to many of these factors, women are more likely to experience poverty than men, which in turn can cause homelessness. These challenges are unique to women, and potential solutions may lie in addressing the structural inequalities that put women at risk in the first place.

The cost of housing has also been cited as a contributing problem, where both affordability and availability can be a challenge. Across the Australian continent, nearly 500,000 low-and moderate-income earners are unable to buy or rent homes. Women at or nearing retirement age seem to be making up a growing subsection of this demographic.

Relationship breakdowns also contribute to homelessness, as they often leave financially dependent women in a vulnerable position. According to the Housing for the Aged Action Group, 70 percent of the women seeking assistance from their organization are women living in poverty as a result of a relationship breakdown. Many of the women at risk of homelessness are facing these challenges for the first time in their lives.

The implications for homelessness among older adults can be far reaching. Older adults who experience homelessness likely do not have access to the physical and mental healthcare that is essential for healthy aging. Older homeless adults may also be at an increased risk for premature mortality. A study conducted in the U.S. found life expectancy among the homeless population to be 10 or more years shorter than the general population.

In global studies of homelessness among the aging, it has been found that contributing factors to this problem tend to be a reflection of structural issues (such as fewer job opportunities or poor housing availability) more so than personal risk factors (such as mental illness or substance abuse). In general, more work needs to be done to identify the potential causes and subsequent risks for homelessness among older adults. As a whole, there is an urgent need to advocate for preventative structural measures that can mitigate the risk of vulnerability among older adults in Australia, as well as elsewhere in the world.

Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at the Kent State University College of Public Health.

Montessori: Changing the Face of Dementia Care

Montessori in Aged Care is a fairly new concept that is picking up momentum in Australia. It revolves around the idea of maintaining independence rather than creating excess disability. Excess disability simply means to increase the dependence of the individual when they can independently complete the activity or task. For example, if an elderly woman can brush her hair, often a staff worker will do it for them with the impression that they are helping, when in actuality they are taking away the resident’s independence. Imagine living in a nursing home away from the comfort of your own home and not being allowed to do the things you enjoy.

Photo Credit: Edwin M Escobar

Montessori in Dementia Care enables individuals to maintain that independence, make choices and boost their self-esteem. It also empowers people to make important contributions and have a meaningful place in their community. The impact of dementia affects the resident in various ways including perception, attention, planning, insight, language, emotions, apathy, behavior, physical function and memory.

Therefore, the Montessori Method offers more choices and opportunities that promote self-determination and individuality to provide the best quality care for all. Here are strategies to provide relevant activities for people with dementia:

  • Take advantage of the known and remembered and use it to create meaningful activities for residents.
  • Offer more social interaction opportunities with people of all ages.
  • Provide more physical activity to keep residents, even those in wheelchair, active such as indoor bowling or ball games.
  • Provide mental stimulation for residents such as crosswords, word games, etc.
  • Utilize music therapy to play familiar music and trigger well-preserved memories and improve quality of life.
  • Delegate roles for different residents, if possible. Responsibility gives residents a sense of purpose.
  • Prepare resources ready to be used to minimize noise and distractions.
  • Know the residents individually: This involves personal history, employment, hobbies, interests and culture.
  • Always have a plan B, C, D, E, F, G because things never go as planned.

In conclusion, I think this new concept of dementia care focuses on the strengths and abilities of people with dementia rather than their condition. Montessori programs provide individuals the opportunity to engage the five senses, such as touch, sight, smell, taste and sound, and stimulate their minds. As success is easily achieved, people are encouraged to focus on tasks at hand. This creates a sense of security and high self-esteem, which contributes to the attainment of a life full of purpose and meaning.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.