Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC)

Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration

The Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC) is a unique collaboration of health, research, aged care and advocacy organisations working together to improve the lives of older people.

Our vision is that older people received the best possible care and support through services, programs and policies which support health and optimal quality of life.

Logos of MARC partner organisations

MARC Symposium speakers

MARC Symposium speakers (from left) Kay Bodna (CAG member), A/Prof Lucio Naccarella (University of Melbourne),
Dr Amber Mills (Australian Association of Gerontology), A/Prof Paul Yates (Austin Health) and Jenny Ashby (CAG member)

The 9th Annual Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC) Symposium was held on the 23rd of August 2023. Hosted by Austin Health, Associate Professor Paul Yates welcomed attendees to the event and Professor Briony Dow, Director of the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), introduced the theme of the symposium ‘Ageing in a changing ecosystem: from macro to micro perspectives’. She emphasised the rapidly changing nature of the multilayered systems which effect older people, and their interrelationships.

Session one explored individual and interpersonal perspectives. Plenary speaker Nikki Beckman, an architect from ADP Consulting introduced the audience to design thinking and how it can be harnessed to transform aged care services to adapt to the changing needs of older people by bringing in many non-traditional perspectives which are filtered through a consumer lens. Nikki asserts that, “We simply can’t do business as usual, anymore” and that we need to be bold and think long term to transform the future of aged care services in the context of an increasingly expansive and diverse ecosystem.

Dr Rajni Lal, a geriatrician at Ryde Hospital in NSW talked attendees through the what, how, why and where of managing frailty. She advocates for moving away from disease specific outcomes and towards goal-oriented care based on a clear assessment which she shares with her patient and is honest with the implications of the condition. She encourages choice and self-determination noting that “being frail does not mean you do not get care”.

Dr Kelly Burns of Dementia Australia closed session one with an introduction to the Brain Track App. Following consultation with consumers and a literature review on barriers to help seeking, timely diagnosis was identified as an area of need. The app aims to helps users monitor and understand changes in cognition over time, which can be used to start a conversation with a GP. The app provides brain health information through travel-themed games that test cognition with the hope to prompt conversations and monitoring that leads to earlier diagnosis of dementia. Early evaluation data is showing significant uptake and positive outcomes from the apps use. Kelly demonstrated how the increasing development of technological interventions can be accessed and used by many older people and their carers to support sometimes difficult and sensitive conversations in a non-threatening and inclusive way.

In Session two, which focussed on organisational and community considerations, Jenny Ashby, a member of the MARC Community Advisory Group discussed the challenges for ageing well is rural Victoria. Jenny highlighted the disparities between reality and the ageing in place policy for remote areas stating that “if there are no options, how can you decide?”. Older people living rurally who wish to remain in their community face limited options due to workforce shortages unable to service the area, unreliable internet access that limits use of digital based services such as telehealth, high cost of service delivery as well as growing climate threats from flood and fire. Jenny argues that, “We just need aged care programs that are better designed for us and take into account the social dynamics of rural communities”.

Associate Professor Lucio Naccarella from the University of Melbourne gave a thoughtful presentation highlighting the caregiver ecosystem, bringing to the conversation key frameworks that he believes the sector should be engaging with in a real way and deliberate in their use. He recommended future research consider the nuanced ethical aspects as well as functions of care and focus on moral resilience.

Ellie Thompson, an occupational therapist and Coordinator Allied Health at Knox City Council and Gary Cantwell Senior Champion Volunteer followed with a lively presentation on the benefits of supporting the community to develop Seniors Exercise Parks with multiple social and physical benefits for the whole community. A flagship project of the NARI, the ENJOY Seniors Exercise Park has been established in numerous councils around Melbourne, including Knox. The recruitment of volunteers to champion and promote their use has been key to the effective translation of the project and to ensure each park is responsive to the needs of older people in each local community Gary and Ellie’s passion for this project was infectious and provocative.

After lunch, session three addressed climate and policy considerations with two presentations exploring the impact of heat waves on older people. Associate Professor Paul Yates, a geriatrician at Austin Health presented his comparison of hospital admission data for older people compared to recorded temperatures in Melbourne. From this analysis he identified consistency with global research that extreme weather does increase hospital presentations. His findings, yet to be published, will provide impetus for further research in this critical area. He is using this data to work on system preparedness and climate action in the sector. Paul stressed the urgency of this work as accelerating climate change will generate increasing risks.

Dr Amber Mills, Policy and Research Manager at the Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG), echoed Paul’s concern in her presentation. AAG have produced a report and recommendations based on Amber’s literature review on how heat waves affect older people in Australia. The review assessed the quality of research and the implications for policy and practice.

The day concluded with a panel discussion on how MARC as a collaboration of diverse health, aged care, academic and advocacy groups as well as government and other services can help older people navigate the changing ecosystem. Panellists included Associate Professor Lucio Naccarella, Nikki Beckman, Associate Professor Paul Yates and Kay Bodna, member of the MARC Community Advisory Group. The biggest areas and opportunities for improvement identified in the Symposium included developing the workforce, engaging with innovative design opportunities and addressing ageism.

Kay Bodna (second from left), MARC CAG member at the Symposium panel discussion

Kay Bodna (second from left), MARC CAG member at the Symposium panel discussion.

Booking for this event has now closed.