Victorian Seniors Commissioner Gerard Mansour

Ageing, like any journey, benefits from some preparation to maximise the experience

Gerard Mansour regularly speaks to seniors throughout the state, spreading his message that people can be proactive in their approach to ageing by ensuring they stay as healthy and active as possible, plan for their future needs and call out unacceptable behaviour such as elder abuse.

‘One of my messages is to think about all the little things we can do, whether it’s finding a sport or activity we love, or exploring healthier eating options,’ says Gerard who was recently reappointed Commissioner for Senior Victorians.

‘It is often the best starting point. Another priority is proactively managing health conditions like diabetes, because research tells us that people who actively manage their conditions are better off.’

International research also reveals the importance of staying as socially connected and active as possible, he says.

‘It is so inspiring to hear the stories of older people who have decided to try new things and explore new interests.

‘There are opportunities for senior Victorians to be socially connected in most local communities, from U3As, to Men’s Sheds, Life Activity Clubs, Neighbourhood Houses, multicultural groups and clubs, libraries, art and craft events, sporting groups and the list goes on.

‘I hear great stories of older people who give so much back to our community by, for example, volunteering or supporting local organisations or causes. Funnily enough, they often say they feel like they get back more than they give!’

Ageing as a journey

On average, the community is living longer and more healthily than ever before.

‘If we think about our senior years as a journey that has different phases, this can help us plan and gain the best possible outcomes, such as having as much independence as possible,’ Gerard says.

He recognises that the journey of ageing can be difficult for many, and that people from diverse backgrounds including those in emerging, disability or Aboriginal communities may experience additional challenges.

Nevertheless, many seniors tell Gerard they wish they had begun their planning process sooner.

‘We can look at ageing from multiple dimensions: Have I got my powers of attorney? Am I in the right house? What am I going to do when I start to come to terms with the fact that I can't drive safely anymore?’ he says.

‘When the time comes, it’s important not to delay getting support. The earlier we find out what is available, for example from the Commonwealth aged care system via MyAgedCare, the earlier we can obtain assistance that helps us maintain our independence for longer.’

Your voice – trust your choice booklet

There are excellent resources available to assist with planning such as Your voice – trust your choice. This free booklet has answers to many practical questions about an enduring Power of Attorney.

‘The Your voice – trust your choice publication is popular because it was developed with the direct input and guidance from older people themselves,’ Gerard says.

The booklet, developed in partnership with the Office of the Public Advocate, contains tips and sample wording that can be included in an enduring power of attorney and guidance about issues to consider when thinking about who to trust to be your enduring power of attorney.

Admiration for carers

Gerard has admiration for the amazing role that informal carers, such as partners or family members, provide to senior Victorians.

‘It is just so important that carers also prioritise their own health needs and remain as active, healthy and socially connected as possible. Reaching out to organisations such as Carers Victoria, COTA or Tandem can really help in finding out what support is available for carers,’ he says.

‘Setting personal goals and aims can be so helpful. Maintaining our social connections, reaching out for support in a timely manner and self-care can all be of great benefit as we move through our journey of ageing.’

Elsewhere Gerard is enthusiastically supporting Respect Victoria’s campaign against elder abuse, Call it Out.

The campaign is valuable he says, because although many older people have trusted family and friends around them, others may sadly experience elder abuse.

‘To prevent elder abuse, we need to start by acknowledging that it exists, and ensure our community respects the rights of older people to be treated with dignity,’ Gerard says. 

‘We can all take a little of the responsibility as a community; that's what’s going to drive change and that's why this campaign can be so powerful.

‘Let’s call it out – elder abuse is not OK. All older people have a right to be treated with respect.’