Be part of this research project

By simply spending 30 minutes of your time answering these questions about yourself, you can make a contribution to research about ageing and Australian women.

What is AgeHAPPY?

The Healthy Ageing Project Population Youth-senior (AgeHAPPY) is an online heath survey for Australians. The Healthy Ageing Project (HAP) mission is to improve the understanding of health across a lifespan to promote healthy ageing and prevent disease.

This round of the survey commenced in 2020. It started with a pilot study called HAP. Data on self-reported health, lifestyle, mood, and vascular risk factors is being collected from male and female participants aged 18 years and over. AgeHAPPY is a continuation of the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP).

WHAP commenced in 1990 as a study examining the health of Australian women from midlife (then aged 45-55 years) before the menopausal transition and into ageing. The study has almost 30 years of data on mood, dietary intake, risky behaviours, physical activity and social connectedness among other factors. WHAP continues to follow up these women, who are now all aged over 70 years. The children of the original participants have now joined the study as of 2021 commencing the WHAP generations study.

AgeHAPPY is a study into the lifelong effects of lifestyle and habits on health and the progression of ageing. Everyone over 18 years of age can participate in the online health questionnaire. This research ultimately contributes to promoting healthy ageing in Australia and to improve the wellbeing of all Australians.

Chronic disease is the largest cause of death and disability in Australian society and throughout the western world. The information collected will enable greater understanding of the impact of social and behavioural factors on health and influence policies toward better prevention and early detection of health issues, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Most studies on “ageing” are usually limited to the elderly. HAP defines ageing as a phenomenon that occurs continuously throughout all stages of life – and presents its health challenges at all ages. Many studies show that indicators for chronic disease occur years before onset.

Through this online health survey, HAP can collect valuable demographic, clinical, behavioural and lifestyle data which allows them to analyse the impact of factors on health and ageing at every age.

Get involved in the AgeHAPPY study

The first section of the study is an online questionnaire covering areas such as demographic information, general health history, family health history, mood, quality of life, physical activity, sleep, diet, alcohol intake, smoking, physical function, social relationships, and negative life events.

The second section is a cognitive component which tests thinking skills, a bit like a brain game. A participant will be invited to complete the online cognitive testing from the Healthy Brain Initiative – Brain Health Registry (HBI-BHR). The Brain Health Registry is a web-based study that enables researchers to efficiently identify, assess and monitor the brain changes associated with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and brain ageing more efficiently.

In 12 months’ time, HAP will contact you to complete a follow-up online questionnaire.

To participate, please follow the link:
https://medicine.unimelb.edu.au/research-groups/medicine-and-radiology-research/royal-melbourne-hospital/healthy-ageing-program/healthy-ageing-project

Australia’s health by socio-economic status

However you describe it, being poor, disadvantaged, or living in a low socioeconomic area is more likely to make you more susceptible to preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.

Australia’s Health Tracker by Socioeconomic Status 2021 reports on the health status of Australians based on their socioeconomic standard which the study has found has a major impact on people’s health. Families and individuals with limited resources not only have more chronic disease, they are at greater risk of dying prematurely as a result of chronic health conditions. People living with mental ill-health are less likely to participate in employment, which in itself, is associated with an improvement in general mental health levels.

The ten million people living in the 40% of communities with lower and lowest socioeconomic status have much higher rates of preventable cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases than others in the population. These communities also have the highest rates of suicide throughout the nation.

Risk factors that are likely to contribute to this higher rate of illness and premature death include:
• Physical inactivity
• Lifetime alcohol consumption
• Daily tobacco use
• Unemployment as a result of mental health issues.

These health disparities within the Australian population are persistent despite considerable policy reform and efforts to improve services in recent decades. The targets for a healthier Australia were developed by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration, a national network of leading health experts and organisations. The Collaboration has worked with the support of the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University since 2014 to influence public and policy awareness and action to reduce high rates of preventable chronic disease in the Australian population.

The report sets health targets for medical conditions such as:
Obesity – Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, back pain and some cancers.
High cholesterol – High levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease. National data from 2011-12 is the most recent available data and indicated that close to one-third of all socioeconomic groups were estimated to have high cholesterol levels.
High blood pressure – Rates of reported high blood pressure are relatively consistent across socioeconomic groups. High blood pressure is often caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption. It is a risk factor for chronic conditions including stroke, heart diseases, and chronic kidney disease
Diabetes – Hospitalisations and deaths related to diabetes are, respectively, 2 and 2.3 times as high in the lowest socioeconomic communities compared to the highest.

Australia’s Health Tracker by Socioeconomic Status 2021 report, The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University. Australia’s Health Tracker by Socioeconomic Status 2021 report

Retirement village exit rules changed

New legislation means that NSW retirement village contracts will now include a timeframe that ensures timely payments for a former resident’s exit entitlements.

These changes apply only to registered interest holders with a long-term registered lease that gives them at least 50% of any capital gain.

They do not apply to:
• registered interest holders who own a lot in a strata or community scheme village or own shares in a company title or trust village that gives them their resident right; or
• unregistered interest holders.

New retirement village laws started in January 2021. The changes reflect complaints made about how exit entitlements were previously managed and provide a timeframe for former residents to receive their exit entitlements. Summarised, the changes:
• enable residents to receive exit entitlement money before their unit sells (if the sale has been ‘unreasonably delayed’);
• provide an option for residents to fund their move into aged care by accessing part of their estimated exit entitlement money;
• ensure residents no longer have to pay ongoing charges for general services for more than 42 days after they leave the retirement village (commences on 1 July 2021 onwards).

New legislation has been introduced which affects existing and all new retirement village contracts. Previously registered interest holders had to wait until a new resident either moved into or leased their old unit before they were able to receive their share of the sale proceeds (the “exit entitlements”). This could mean that if the village operator delayed the sale of a unit after the resident left, the former might not receive their exit entitlements for anywhere between two and five years.

Under the new legislation, a registered interest holder can apply to the Secretary of the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation for an exit entitlement order directing the village operator to pay the exit entitlements to the former resident even though the unit has not sold. The order can require payment after six months for Sydney metropolitan, Wollongong and Blue Mountains residences and within one year anywhere else in NSW. This order will only be made if the village operator has “unreasonably delayed” the sale considering the time taken to refurbish the unit and whether the operator as selling agent has performed all their duties within reasonable time.

Such an application can only be made by a former resident but not their estate. If the order is made, the exit entitlement must be paid with 30 days of the order.

If the registered interest holder moves out of the retirement village into a residential aged care facility and has not received their exit entitlement, the resident may ask that the operator make one or more daily accommodation payments to the facility on behalf of the resident within 28 days of the resident’s request. As more than 60% of residents move directly into aged care, their move can be delayed if they do not have access to funds to pay the daily accommodation payments to the facility and the unit does not sell quickly. These amendments are intended to make the transfer easier for residents and family members.

For more detail, see Fair Trading website, https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/about-fair-trading/legislation-and-publications/changes-to-legislation/changes-to-retirement-village-laws

Serious Incident Response Scheme begins in aged care facilities

With the release of the final report of the Royal Commission Into Aged Care, one of its most frightening details is that in 2019-20, over 851 alleged sexual assaults were reported in aged care facilities. However, as resident-on-resident assaults for the most part go unreported, the real figure is likely “as high as 2,520, or almost 50 per week”.

Despite such high statistics, the report’s 148 recommendations make no specific recommendations as to how that issue that predominantly affects older women should be managed.

The issue is expected to be managed by an enhanced reporting system known as the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) that begins on 1 April.

The scheme requires aged care providers to identify, record, manage, resolve and report all serious incidents that occur, or are alleged or suspected to have occurred.

Aged care providers also need to have in place an effective incident management system to manage all incidents, respond to incidents, and take steps to minimise the risk of preventable incidents reoccurring. The incident management system covers a broader range of non-reportable incidents and includes incidents that involve staff or visitors.

Under the existing system, aged care providers do not have to report incidents that involve a perpetrator who has a cognitive impairment and the operators have got strategies in place because it is felt that an impaired person cannot be successfully prosecuted.

“In some cases, family members encourage their loved ones to move into residential care because they felt that it would be safer for them”, the report notes. “But, on the contrary, people living in residential aged care likely face a much higher risk of assault than people living in the community.”

Under SIRS, there is a wider range of serious incidents that are reportable than those reported under current compulsory reporting requirements. Importantly, providers will have to report incidents of abuse and aggression between consumers, including where the resident who commits the incident has a cognitive or mental impairment.

Under the SIRS protocol, aged care must report all ‘Priority 1’ incidents within 24 hours to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. ‘Priority 1’ incidents include those that cause or could reasonably have caused physical or psychological injury or illness requiring some form of medical or psychological treatment. Instances of unexplained absence from care and any unexpected death of a consumer are always to be regarded as Priority 1 reportable incidents.
From 1 October 2021, all ‘Priority 2’ incidents, that is reportable incidents that do not meet the criteria for ‘Priority 1’, must also be reported within 30 days.

In addition, the SIRS requires every residential aged care service to have in place an effective incident management system – a set of protocols, processes, and standard operating procedures that staff are trained to use.

For further information, refer to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission website, https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/sirs

Poetry inspired by Flourish

A collaboration of sewing, photography and poetry.

Winner, Flying Arts Alliance, Qld, 2020ce
Flourish, cyanotype photograms on cotton with thread.
104cm x104cm (framed with Perspex)
Leanne Vincent, 2020.
A Lineage of Ecologies

Each sea blue petal, gathered
in honour of Detritus, was slow
stitch’d into this teeming quilt,
this bowerbird mandala,
this cathedral rose window
in the navy night,
this rock pool in kaleidoscope.
And now the Seaweeds, from
Photographs of British Algae
to whom Flourish is indebted,
wave from their 19th century pages
in a lineage of ecologies.

-Sally Denshire Continue reading “Poetry inspired by Flourish”

New Year resolutions for a lucky country

It’s the start of a new year and it’s the perfect time to make your own resolutions for the year. Lose weight, get more exercise, drink less alcohol – we all know about those. We also know that if we don’t incorporate those resolutions into our daily routine from day one, we are not likely to succeed.

Taking a national perspective – it’s been a year where managing the pandemic has been a world-wide priority rather than taking any positive policy steps. Australia has not experienced the same kind of turmoil as the US or the UK but as we come out of the pandemic crisis, what should be the policy focus for our country? What do you think should be included in the Australian government’s New Year resolutions? To be on their To Do list from day one.

Here are a few suggestions:
• Distribute the Covid-19 vaccine to anyone at risk.
• Raise the JobSeeker allowance by $100 per week.
• Recognise our First Nations people in the Constitution.
• Introduce carbon-pricing for all industries to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2040.
• Implement a nation-wide bushfire emergency plan.
• Close Nauru and bring all refugees to Australia.
• Buy all the empty apartment blocks around Sydney and use them to provide affordable housing.
• Initiate key recommendations from Aged Care Commission in all aged care homes.
• Develop a plan for all coal industry workers to transition to renewable energy industries.
• Reduce the registration costs for all electric cars.

Super in the time of pandemic

Is our retirement system good enough? Superannuation should enable all people to have an adequate standard of living when retired, according to the Retirement Income Review into the Australian retirement system. The system should not just provide a means for wealthy people to become wealthier, with the help of generous tax concessions.

The Review found that two groups have high levels of financial stress compared to people below age 65: those renting in retirement and those who are involuntarily retired before age pension eligibility age. Retirees who rent in the private rental market are likely to live in poverty and those early retirees living on JobSeeker payments are the worst affected. Even with the age pension and additional rental assistance, these retirees experienced higher levels of financial stress and poverty than the rest of the population.

Following 426 submissions and meetings with 100 stakeholders, Treasury has released the Review’s Final Report which makes findings on how the superannuation system interacts with the age pension, the aged care system and the tax concessions that benefit high wealth individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to the livelihoods of individuals and to businesses on a global scale. Less obviously, most people’s retirement savings also have decreased significantly over the past year. Retirees who rely on their super to top up age pension payments remain concerned that their super investments have been affected by market volatility, leading them to worry that their loss in savings will have long-term effects.

Retirement savings and owning your own home are the most important ways to ensure that people have a buffer in retirement. High rates of home ownership in Australia reduces housing costs in retirement and boosts living standards. Additionally, their home is an asset that they can sell to provide a deposit for aged care or for additional funds if necessary.

While the age pension helps to offset inequities in retirement, its “bare bones” level of income does not provide enough to provide for those without other income. In particular, it does little to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups such as women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those with disabilities who have not been able to accumulate sufficient retirement savings in their working life.

One of Treasury’s first observations was that the current retirement system is complex and poorly understood by many people, both before and during retirement. Then more complications arise when it interacts with the aged care and tax system.

The Report suggested some changes to the retirement system to improve its fairness such as:
• removing the $450 per month income threshold before the superannuation guarantee can be paid;
• paying superannuation while on employer paid parental leave, and
• ensuring that all employees are paid the benefits to which they are entitled.

Australian superannuation funds hold $2.9 trillion of assets invested in local and overseas financial markets. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns of businesses and associated job losses, superannuation proved a welcome financial resource for many who had lost their employment. Over 4 million applicants were able to access their super under the Early Release scheme to supplement their wages or JobSeeker allowances. In total $37.4 billion was paid out in the June 2020 quarter to applicants, a 77.7% increase from the March 2020 quarter.

Many commentators were concerned that low to middle income earners who accessed their super early would be severely disadvantaged in being able to accumulate sufficient funds for their retirement as well as making them more likely to be reliant on the age pension. The debate about allowing people to access their super to fund a deposit for a house has not been resolved with arguments on both sides. In my opinion, too many people have drawn on their super in ways that provided only a temporary benefit now, while suffering a substantial long-term loss to their level of super when they retire.

I look forward to the government’s response – will they improve the system for the most disadvantaged people in the retirement system? Much more needs to be done.

Treasury, 20/11/20, Retirement Income Review – Final Report, https://treasury.gov.au/publication/p2020-100554

Sexual assaults increase during pandemic lockdown

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has released its statistics for the second quarter ending June 2020 which showed that recorded incidents of break ins, car theft and retail theft were significantly interrupted by the pandemic response.

The only major exception to the reduction in offences is reported sexual assaults which rose 9.4% year-on-year to June 2020, similar to the upward trend reported in the previous quarterly report.

Sexual assault increased in two of the 15 Sydney Statistical Areas:

Blacktown (up 24.4%, or 71 additional incidents)
Sutherland (up 59.2%, or 45 additional incidents)

Two Sydney regions had a significant increase in recorded rates of domestic assault in the past two years:
Baulkham Hills & Hawkesbury (up 32.7%, or 123 additional incidents),
Parramatta (up 9.9% or 175 additional incidents)

Regional NSW saw significant upward trends in recorded rates of sexual assault in three of the 13 statistical areas:
Hunter Valley excluding Newcastle (up 19.7% or 59 additional incidents),
Illawarra (up 33.7% or 66 additional incidents), and:
Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven (up 63.9% or 62 additional incidents).

Domestic violence related assault increased in the Murray (up 25.1% or 127 additional incidents)

Commenting on the findings, Executive Director of BOCSAR, Jackie Fitzgerald, said the continuing increase in reported sexual assaults was a worrying trend. “It appears that at least some of the increase in sexual assault is related to an increase in secondary and mandatory reporting of child sexual assault. We will continue to closely monitor trends in this offence.”

BOSCAR media release, 2/09/20: https://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Pages/bocsar_media_releases/2020/mr-NSW-Recorded-Crime-Statistics-Quarterly-Update-June-2020-aspx.aspx