‘If we don’t listen, who will?’

A MURDER of crows, a business of ferrets, a conspiracy of lemurs … but what is the collective noun for senior citizens?

In my family, we call it a faff.

It's not just fun to say, it perfectly describes their action. Or rather, inaction.

I challenge anyone to herd my mother and her siblings from the house to the car in under five minutes. There are arguments to be had over who is driving, where they are sitting, where we are going, and someone always needs to dash to the loo in the final moments. It's shockingly similar to travelling with toddlers - diaper bag and all.

But I love a good faff.

And not just for their comedic material.

Attending the premiere of the new Aussie film Palm Beach, starring Bryan Brown and directed by wife Rachel Ward, I was struck by their comments to the audience that they wanted to create content that reflected their generation.

Sure, there are films (although not many) that feature older characters (usually men), but they're not telling older stories.

The Palm Beach premiere was filled with over-50s - I felt positively pubescent by comparison - and they loved seeing an aspirational version of themselves on the (very) silver screen.

I can't say it's my new favourite film, but I love the value it gives to our older generations.

It reminded me too to listen to what our seniors have to say. Because, one day, that will be me.

Every birthday is one year closer to the age of invisibility, that phenomenon when seniors literally grey into the background and their opinion is no longer valued but instead, at best, tolerated.

It’s important to take time to value our elderly.
It’s important to take time to value our elderly.

And these are people who were once 'somebodies'. They may still have plenty of money, they may still be working, but they are excluded from the greater collective of society.

Then there are those who are none of the above.

Gold Coast community groups have raised the alarm that our seniors are facing a social housing crisis, with a growing number of couples aged in their 70s "who are either homeless or on the brink of homelessness" crying out for assistance.

The groups say they are battling a rising cost of living, low Newstart and pension allowances, and a serious lack of affordable and social housing.

Yet nobody has listened to their pleas until these advocacy groups spoke for them.

Our ignorance of the lives, the problems and the stories of our seniors are a source of shame.

As we hear yet more horror stories coming out of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, we need to start asking not just whether these facilities are up to scratch, but whether our society is.

Caring for our elders is not an easy job. It can be every bit as - if not more - demanding than caring for young children.

Yet where are the demands that we be given flexible work hours or leave to enable us to look after our parents ourselves, rather than being forced to completely outsource the care? Perhaps we need an entirely new definition of 'parental leave'?

It seems an impossibility right now, but we can start making a difference … just by listening.

And while it's easy to write, it's so hard to practice. Because it takes patience.

Anyone who has a parent over 70 knows the pain of a senior phone call.

First comes the 30-second delay as they figure out which button to push to answer the phone and how to turn up the volume … and then comes the five-minute monologue about how they came to find the phone.

Swallow the impatience and listen to them.
Swallow the impatience and listen to them.

"Well, I thought I could hear it ringing but Margaret said it was a bird because remember how we heard that bird that sounded like my ringtone last Wednesday? Or was it Tuesday? Hmm, yes, it must have been Tuesday because that was the day that Bob had his appointment with the proctologist - he got the all clear, thank goodness - so then I realised it was the phone but I couldn't find it because it was at the bottom of my new bag, you know the red one - well, it's more orange than red, really - but I found it eventually and it turned out to be you! How are you, love?"

Yep, you got faffed.

But we need to practice swallowing that impatience and learn to just listen.

Because if we don't, who will?