Would you like a latte with that?

Tuning in to local ABC radio the other night I heard some aged-care guru telling the world how ageing baby boomers would expect chai soy lattes along with their residential aged care. Sure! Along with their blackberries, lap tops and iPhones! At times, you wonder whether some of these experts on aged care have set foot in the door of an aged-care home lately.

Forget the latte and worry about whether you can get someone to help you get to the toilet in time.

Given the absence of mandatory minimum staffing levels in aged care in Australia and that most of the rhetoric coming from providers is about how they can’t manage with the current level of government subsidies, then I think the prospect of getting customised food and special hot drinks is pretty remote – even for baby-boomers used to demanding their rights. Then add the fact that so many aged-care homes now have contract caterers bringing in frozen meals and the notion of quality fresh food and particular personal choices gets even more unlikely.

My mother had never confronted a chicken nugget until her aged-care home gave the food contract to a private catering company. The quality of the food then went down markedly. Before this happened there was a cook working on the premises who took great pride in her work. After she was sacked, the residents had to get used to a heady diet of fish fingers, chicken nuggets, soup made from dehydrated substances, very little fresh fruit and cheap cordial. I still feel upset just thinking about it.

When I hear these stories about how things will change when the baby-boomers start accessing residential aged care, I feel quite bemused. Does anyone really think that the experience of being old and frail will be any different for baby-boomers?

Yes, those who have experienced good health and good health care throughout their life might live a little longer but a loss of vigour and some degree of disability is surely part of the end-of-life experience. And I doubt that frail baby-boomers will be any more able to demand their rights than those people who are living in our aged-care homes right now. Furthermore, it is expected that the number of those experiencing dementia will increase markedly.

Right now, in our aged-care homes, staff are being asked to do more with less. Many good people are leaving as they just cannot get the job done. They say that they have no time to do what is required to provide good, safe care and even less time to spend talking to residents. I’d be forgetting about the chai soy latte!