Academic journal article Rural Society

Healthy Ageing: Farming into the Twilight

Academic journal article Rural Society

Healthy Ageing: Farming into the Twilight

Article excerpt

Australia, like many other western countries, is undergoing dramatic population ageing, with a bulge in the population of baby boom- ers now reaching aged 65, and large increases in numbers at the oldest end of the lifespan. This demographic transition has major implications for government policy, the delivery of health and human services and related government expendi- ture. The latter has been a major source of concern for Australian governments, expressed through a series of Treasury policy documents - the Inter- generational Reports (Australian Government Treasury, 2010) - which highlight concerns about the increased health costs associated with an ageing population. To mitigate these costs, the Australian government has moved towards build- ing policies focussed on healthy and active ageing.

After embarking on a major reform process, the federal government has issued a new policy docu- ment, the 'Living Longer, Living Better' reform package (Australian Government, 2012). This pol- icy approach is aimed at building the capacity of older people to remain independent, healthy and productive into old age, thus reducing the demand on health and aged care services. According to the National Rural Health Alliance (2005) frame- work this means promoting lifestyle choices which support an independent, active and engaged life with a sense of control or personal self-efficacy for as long as possible. According to Asquith (2009), this new policy agenda draws from three major understandings of healthy ageing which have been extensively debated and defined in the literature as successful ageing (social connectedness), produc- tive ageing (social productivity) and healthy ageing (good health). Notions of keeping busy, keeping active, keeping connected, productive and pull- ing your weight are not only central to ageing well, but depict key elements of a farming life. However, for ageing farmers this may be problematic if they are facing economic constraints, problems with physical work and an inability to obtain help in the absence of a next generation, and the withdrawal of rural services (Davis & Bartlett, 2008).The new policy agenda acknowledges the unique circum- stances of rural older people by having a special cat- egory for rural ageing, yet it remains unclear how the 'Living Longer, Living Better' reform package will impact the lives of ageing farmers. This article reports on the outcomes of a policy and research forum on the demographic, economic, cultural, identity and health dimensions of this pressing issue. It concludes by identifying key areas for policy attention and cultural change needs.

LITERATURE REVIEW

In line with government objectives, contemporary ageing policy is focussed on ageing-in-place - that is, keeping older people at home as they age in order to respond to older people's wishes as well as the need to reduce costly institutional care places. Ageing-in-place recognises the importance of local communities in providing services and place identity to people as they age, and has enormous implications for older people in rural communi- ties (Winterton & Warburton, 2011, 2012). The issue here is can older farmers age successfully, productively and healthily in-place - that is, on the farm. And if not, what are their options?

This new agenda is still in its formative phases. However, what lacks attention is that not every- one faces clear retirement and ageing choices. This is particularly the case in rural areas, which are often ageing much faster than urban areas (Davis, 2003; Davis, Crothers, Grant, Young, & Smith, 2012) and where older people are vulner- able to social isolation, economic disadvantage, poor health outcomes and lack of access to health and aged care services (Davis & Bartlett, 2008; Winterton & Warburton, 2011, 2012). The par- ticular needs of this population may be much harder to meet, particularly within a healthy age- ing policy agenda. Further, while ageing rural populations are vulnerable to poor ageing out- comes, the ageing population living on farms presents additional challenges. …

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