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Helping older residents – now we have a number

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You can understand why older people are reluctant to move into aged  care – and that was even before they became hotspots for Covid-19 infections last year.

For some seniors and their families, apartments offer a compromise: level access, low maintenance, independence and neighbours nearby in case of emergencies.

But there is a downside, especially if the older resident is socially isolated and has no immediate family living nearby.

As we discussed in Flat Chat recently that raises the question of whether or not strata committees and building managers have a duty of care to their elderly residents. 

And is that superseded by responsibilities to the majority of residents and investors, to protect the property from potential damage?

If you invested or lived in a building where any resident – not just an older person –  posed any risk, you’d probably want to know what was being done about it.

In recent years we have seen a drift by senior Australians from standalone houses to apartment blocks.

That said, according to the most recent figures, downsizing empty-nesters constitute only 3 per cent of apartment residents. 

But considering we are approaching 2.5 million apartment residents nationally, that’s 75,000 apartment residents who are past retirement age and that’s not counting the old-timers who’ve been there since day dot.

Sadly, some of them will eventually be left alone with varying abilities to look after themselves. And we’ve had reports of neighbours, strata and building managers being told to mind their own business when they try to help.

So consider this hypothetical but far from fanciful scenario.  You are the chair in a building where there is an older person living alone who keep themselves to themselves.

Then one night they fall asleep and leave a tap running. It floods their apartment, the one next door and a couple below.  They are hugely apologetic and their home and contents insurance pays for the damage.

Then a couple of weeks later, they doze off and leave a pan to smoulder on the stove top, sleeping through the smoke alarms and only waking up when the fire brigade come crashing through their front door.

As the chair of the building, technically you have no right to interfere in the lives of individual owners except, perhaps, to pursue them for breaching by-laws – which in this case would be entirely inappropriate.

And you certainly have no right to force the elderly neighbour or their family members to call in aged care agencies to try to deal with a situation that is more likely to get worse than get better as time goes on.

In fact, the chair’s predicament is probably that they simply don’t know who to call, either for the benefit of the elderly resident or their neighbours.

So we’ve done a little digging and come up with an organisation called the Older Persons Advocacy Network.  This is a national government-funded organisation that will connect you with seniors’ support agency in your state.

They will then advise you on the next step or alert the appropriate bodies to get the help you and your neighbour need.

But be clear on one thing: their main priority is the well-being of the elderly resident. They may not give a hoot about their neighbours or common property.

However, if you accept that’s what’s good for the oldie is probably good for the building, its residents and investors, it could and should be a win-win.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network can be contacted on 1800 700 600 or via its website (opan.com.au).

A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

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