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Helping older people with disability to transition to retirement at a pace that suits them

151122 AnnectoAGM 0068

When Jackie Ross started at annecto four years ago, she was told one of her older clients, Robert, had retired and no longer attended day services at annecto David House.  Jackie decided to visit Robert at his home and see how he was getting on.

When she arrived, Robert, 61 years of age, was sitting hunched on the couch, rocking backwards and forwards, repeating the same sentence over and over.  This behaviour wasn’t consistent with what Jackie had read about Robert.

Seeing Robert this way made her question the way older people with disabilities are treated, once they’ve reached an age that they no longer want or can attend day services. She thought about her own mother, who had recently retired.  “My mum is more active now than she ever was when she was working. She volunteers, looks after my son a couple of days a week; she’s super active. Retirement isn’t about stopping,” Jackie explains.

With over half of Australians aged over 65 years old, living with a disability (ABS, 2003), Jackie wondered if we weren’t missing a few steps in the transition to retirement, for older people with disabilities. Robert used to attend day services at David House, five days a week.  She decided to get Robert’s support workers together and see if they couldn’t find a way to better engage Robert, in a way that better suited his age and desires.  “If I were in my 70s, I’m not sure I would want to get up at 7 am every morning to be ready for the bus and starting activities at David House at 9 am,” says Jackie.  Knowing that Robert would benefit from the physical, mental and social aspect of David House, Jackie implemented a plan whereby a support worker would visit Robert twice a week, pick him up and take him to activities that suited him, on the day.  Three days a week, Robert gets to wake up slowly, in his own time and potter around at home.  Twice a week, he gets taken out to lunch, shopping, visits the museum, attends a cooking class, or drops in on friends at David House.  Robert’s manner improved dramatically with the new plan, and he’s very happy with his new arrangement.

Jackie’s transition to retirement program is currently working with ten people. “We have another couple of people are thinking of slowing down and living a less vigorous routine,” says Jackie. Working with each person, Jackie finds the right balance for them and their family. “It’s not an easy one size fits all, solution.  We have to work with family members and support workers to make sure that any decrease in time at the day service, is balanced with the right care, and social support needs at home,” explains Jackie.

Colin is 46 years old, and wants to slow down the pace of his every day life. He clearly needed a change in his routine.  He attended David House five days a week, but Jackie noticed when he was there he would isolate himself from others, was distressed and displaying behaviours of concern.  After consultation with Colin, his family and his support worker, it was decided that two days a week a support worker would collect Colin, and take him to activities that he wanted to attend.  Colin was visibly happier with this arrangement.  He lost weight, wore a smile again and visited his friends at David House when he wanted to.

Malcolm is 75 years of age and loves sleeping in.  With five days a week at David House, sleeping in became a desire that was never fulfilled, for Malcolm.  Malcolm still enjoyed attending day services but tired easily and didn’t want to rush every morning to get on the bus.  It was decided that three days a week, Malcolm didn’t have to get up at 7 am to attend David House. He could sleep in and come in late.

For some people, slowing down means walking away from activities and jobs that are important to them and have a positive impact on others.  Maree, 56 years, and Diane, 58 years are both considering slowing down their regular routines.  They both have valued roles within the newsletter program at David House and are an integral part of the Client Council, where they use their voice to represent the David House community. “The contribution Maree and Diane make leads to greater things, and this gives them a great deal of pride and purpose,” explains Jackie.  Walking away from this or even reducing the time they spend on their duties comes with a great deal of hesitancy.

Some older people provide essential mentoring for younger people at David House. Rachel shows newcomers joining the newspaper delivery program, how to roll the papers and plan delivery routes.  Her support is very hands on, and Rachel will often go with the newcomers to make sure they feel comfortable with what they are doing.

“Little changes to an older person’s routine can make a huge difference.  We want people to feel like they are connected, engaged and stimulated when it suits them.  Some of these people have attended day services for 40 or 50 years.  Allowing them the opportunity to slow down the pace a bit without stopping them from engaging altogether, is the aim of this program,” explains Jackie.

Watch the video of Malcolm and Jackie presenting their story at 2015 annecto Annual General Meeting, or read other stories like this in the 2014 – 2015 annecto Annual Report.