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 is not within the seven-continent model. For geographical purposes, we will explore the countries of Oceania.

Five Questions With Social Entrepreneur Andrew Dowling

Name: Andrew Dowling
Job: Founder and CEO
Country: Australia and United States
Age: 51

Andrew Dowling is the Founder and CEO of Stitch, the world’s leading companionship and activities community for over 50’s. Andrew wrote his Master’s thesis on social enterprise a decade ago — long before most people had even heard of the concept — and has spent the last ten years building businesses designed to have a social impact. He is currently working to address social isolation and loneliness for older adults at Stitch. Andrew has over two decades of experience building successful technology organizations in Australia, India, China, and the United States. He has served in multiple businesses in a wide range of roles and specialties: CEO, CTO, strategy consultant, software engineer, advisor, non-executive director. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

On older adults staying socially connected during COVID-19:

“The COVID-19 crisis has meant this question is relevant not just to older adults, but pretty much everyone around the world right now. Many people have been finding creative ways to stay socially connected, particularly through the use of video platforms that allow people to get together “virtually” for everything from happy hours and dinner parties through to Pilates and exercise sessions. 

For older adults, the answer has been remarkably similar. We’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm with which Stitch members have embraced virtual events and activities as an alternative way to connect socially. Most of the virtual activities scheduled on Stitch each day are booked out within minutes, and we are seeing a big increase in the number of members who are connecting with each other online, where in the past they would be meeting face to face.

Of course, depending on where you live, there is still some degree of in-person interaction happening too. Certain activities, particularly going for walks or other forms of exercise, are still allowed provided they comply with social distancing rules. We are seeing “coffee walks”, or activities like golf, taking place in the community, although the number of participants for those events is obviously much smaller than it was previously.”

On improving access to technology for older adults:

“At Stitch, we are often finding that preconceived notions about older adults not being able to access technology are often over-exaggerated. We have members who are in their 90’s, and it’s been inspiring to watch those who are comfortable with technology help those members who are still just learning. The suddenness of the COVID-19 crisis has seen a massive increase in the number of older adults who are suddenly willing to try something new like video calling, which is something we have observed a lot over the last few years: once older adults have a reason to adopt new technology, they are often far more adept than many people expect. 

Having said that, there are of course many older adults who do not have access to technology or else face other barriers. For us, the solution comes from recognizing that’s always going to be the case for a certain percentage of the population, and finding ways to address it. Some of our members, for example, act as “buddies” for other members who struggle with technology. They will give them a phone call to let them know when there is an activity they would like to attend, and often help with things like transport (which is another barrier that many older adults face). The key here is building community connections that help support those people who may struggle, for whatever reason.”

On what he’s learned since starting Stitch:

“I sometimes think I have learned more since starting Stitch than I did in my entire previous professional career. If I were to point to one thing, however, it has been how my greater understanding of the importance of social connections on our mental and physical well-being has had an impact on my own personal life. Until I started on the Stitch journey, I think I took my social connections for granted to some extent — at least, I never previously thought much about the impact of my social connections and my sense of community had on my own well-being. Being an active part of the community has highlighted how important those things are, not just for me, but for my kids and my family, and that’s been an unexpected gift.”

On increasing social connections as people get older:

“As we get older, we often face increasing barriers to social connections, including access to technology and transport, as previously mentioned, but also support for disabilities, affordable housing, and health. Organizations like Stitch are working to address those barriers, along with plenty of community organizations, local government groups, health organizations, and not-for-profits. It’s a big challenge and one that is only getting bigger as we all live longer lives.

Having said that, we have seen time and again how resilient our members are, particularly when they are been given an opportunity to be part of the solution themselves. In Stitch’s case, the most important members of the community are those members who help create social outcomes for all other members. By creating solutions that older adults themselves can create and nurture, rather than coming up with services that need to be delivered to them, we can end up creating far more sustainable outcomes for everyone.”

On his insights about loneliness and aging:

“There is a persistent stereotype of the lonely older adult, which paints a picture of inevitable loneliness as we age. In reality, the evidence tells us that older adults are less likely to feel lonely than their younger counterparts, and it is young people today who identify as the most lonely generation. 

The role that aging plays, however, is an important one, and it’s why we chose 50 as the age for people to be allowed to join Stitch. When we are younger, life brings us new social connections automatically, whether that’s through school, college, work, or even parenting. This means we can go through much of the first part of our lives without ever thinking too hard about how we build meaningful social connections. 

At a certain point, however, opportunities for those new social connections stop or decrease. And the process of aging means our social circles then will inevitably start to shrink — driven by factors such as relocation, illness, divorce, and death — unless we proactively develop new social connections. 

This is why one of the biggest things we can be doing right now to address isolation in older adults is through education. Being “lonely” today is still considered a stigma, something very few people feel comfortable admitting. They often feel that doing so is to admit there is something wrong with them.

On the contrary, it’s a natural part of life for your social circle to shrink, particularly once you reach 50 and beyond. The more people understand that, and understand that the only way to address it is to constantly open themselves to new connections, the happier we will all be as we age. 

Being “lonely” today is still considered a stigma, something very few people feel comfortable admitting.

Andrew Dowling, MBA

Four Key Questions When Choosing A Residential Care Facility

Does the facility offer memory care options?

Not all aged care facilities are created alike. Some offer memory care options, while others do not. Independent living facilities, for example, are geared toward older adults who are able to live an active lifestyle. Assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities (also known as nursing homes) may offer memory care options for people with dementia. Before choosing a care facility, ask the facility director if the institution provides specialized care or not.

What is the cost?

Caring for a person with dementia is expensive. According to an analysis conducted in 2016, the cost of health and residential care of people living with dementia can reach up AU $88,000  annually. Before committing to a facility, ensure that the facility and their services are up to or above par. Check the facility’s basic daily fee, plus its means-tested care fee and accommodation cost. Some facilities also charge fees for additional services.

What activity programs are available?

Mental stimulation can have physical benefits for people with dementia. Thus, an ideal aged care facility should provide inclusive programming, as well as specific recreational activities for residents with dementia. Some examples of activities include:

  • Reading and solving puzzles
  • Exercise and meditation
  • Playing a musical instrument/ listening to music/ sing-a-long
  • Movie screenings
  • Painting and crafts

What kind of training has the nursing staff received?

Thoroughly check ALL nursing staff credentials to make sure that they are adequately trained. Observe how the staff deals with the residents. Do they treat the residents with compassion and respect, or do they raise their voices or are rude when they communicate? Do you see signs of abuse or neglect? What is the staff-to-resident ratio per shift?

Also, make sure that a registered nurse is on duty 8 hours a day, and the facility is operated by licensed nursing staff 24 hours a day. Many dementia patients are unable to eat or drink by themselves, so check whether the staff is willing to assist residents who are unable to do so.

Daniel Lummis is a marketing consultant at Homestyle Aged Care. Homestyle Aged Care provides aged care in a comfortable and safe environment within the greater Melbourne metropolitan area in Australia

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.

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.