OPINION

Where are the voices of rural older people?

Where are the voices of rural older people?

The title of the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is very telling: Neglect.

It reveals that Australia's aged care system fails to meet the needs of its older, vulnerable citizens.

This is not really a surprise - anyone who works in or around the aged care sector has seen this first-hand.

While the Royal Commission has covered a lot of ground, it has neglected a group that make up more than one-third of Australia's ageing population.

And that is those living in rural and regional Australia.

The Royal Commission's Mudgee Hearing in November focused on rural communities but, like the rest of the hearings, it had its limitations.

Royal Commission witnesses must reveal their identity. But how is an older person living in a rural community - a town that might only have one service provider - supposed to stand up in public and criticise that provider? The same provider that they rely on for their meals and daily care?

At best, we hear from the children of older people who have passed away. But that's a far cry from direct lived experience.

Rural communities have their unique challenges.

There is far less choice when it comes to service provision.

And if an older person has complex healthcare needs, it becomes even more difficult for them to stay living independently in a rural community.

If the Royal Commission is to be effective, it must hear about all of this and more, from the people who are directly affected.

As part of our work here at La Trobe University, we are delving into many of these issues.

We want to understand the barriers that older people face when accessing care in rural and regional communities - and what works well in those areas too.

Participants in our study can choose to maintain their anonymity, knowing that what they tell us will inform our submission to the Royal Commission.

If you're an older person living in a rural community in Victoria, you can take part in our study via https://now.latrobe/ruralageing

If you're an older person living in a rural community elsewhere, I hope the Royal Commission finds a way to include you.

Because we need to hear the voices of older rural Australians.

Professor Irene Blackberry is the Director of the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research at La Trobe University