Imagine getting a phone call from your grandma who says that at 86 years of age, someone just taught her to ride a bike. You can tell she's beaming by the way she speaks. Not only has she done something new and exciting, but someone has spent precious time with her. She has a friend who takes the time to sit and chat, help around the house and genuinely wants to get to know her. She's still living at home. She has no desire to go to a rest home and doesn't need to.
When we talk about New Zealand aged care, it's a narrow conversation. We talk about when mum or dad will move into a home and how we'll afford it. But what if they had relationships and support that meant they could stay at home?
The broken institutionalised care system has to change. We have one option and it's a rest home - I have yet to meet anyone whose aspiration is to actually move into one. As a result of the current model's hierarchical structure, things can go wrong. In the worst cases, abuse. The Herald reported on an older man in a Pukekohe rest home with maggots in his wound. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
No one wants this for their elders, and that's why Mycare is moving New Zealand back to a community-based model of care and support. Our aged need strong community support within reach. Everyone says it's best to age at home, but there's no infrastructure to support this.
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We don't need huge corporate structures to ensure our parents and grandparents are taken care of, we just need to use the technology in our pockets to connect with people around us. Mycare's online platform has been dubbed the Airbnb of in-home healthcare. If you're looking for someone to help grandpa with his health needs, or pop in and spend quality time, you can look up a variety of carers in your community and pick the one that suits him. His new carer could live just around the corner. On the other side of the coin, the carer has created a new form of meaningful work in his or her local area.
And it's safe - every carer is police checked. So you know who is walking through the door because you picked the carer. Carers are paid for the hours they've worked and the money transactions are transparent - everyone in the family can see where the money is going if they want.
What we are seeing at Mycare - with 15,000 people in our community - is that on every street in New Zealand there is someone needing support, but the healthcare model is limiting how we can help each other. How does a young carer wanting to help an older person with their gardening connect? Mycare is reinventing social infrastructure enabling these people to make connections.
While one of our clients is hopping on her bike, a gentleman is simply looking for a companion to play bridge with and share a gin. It's the little things we get joy out of. Your world can shrink as you age and Mycare wants to open it back up.
Social isolation causes illness and depression. Using Mycare as a tool to introduce someone to a grandparent's life can give them a new friendship, and relieve family stress too, because you may not see them as much as you'd like.
It's my hope during Elder Abuse Awareness Week tthat the media helps highlight this issue. We can support older people on any issue with our carers ranging from retirees, to those just wanting to help out, and through to qualified part-time nurses. It's not just loneliness and companionship, we need to ensure our elders are valued, maintain a strong sense of purpose and can make friends.
Sam Johnson, founder of the "student volunteer army" that helped clean up after the Christchurch earthquakes, is head of innovation for Mycare.