Our Denial of Ageing & The Impact on Our Aged Care System

5 Minute Read

Tags: Aged Care, Dying


"We are all going to die. Every single one of us in the room, at some point, will die." - Awarded poet, writer & aged care advocate, S. Holland-Batt.

Our Denial of Ageing & The Impact on Our Aged Care System
© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions


Award-winning poet, writer and now aged care advocate, Sarah Holland-Batt[1], opened her address to the recent 2022 Sydney Writers Festival[2] audience with the confronting statement: “We are all going to die. Every single one of us in the room, at some point, will die.”[3]

In her 30-minute address, drawing on psychological terms such as “terror management theory” and “morality salience”, she then explained how we deny the inevitability of our own death and, in doing so, fail to apply any ambition to Australia’s aged care system.

How and why we deny death

Sarah spoke of the numerous peer-reviewed scientific experiments where humans are reminded of their own mortality through comparisons with the lifecycle of dolphins, a species said to be almost as intelligent or more than intelligent than humans.

The outcomes of those experiments, she said, revealed that we deny our biological identity or creatureliness: “I am not an animal.” This is the essence of “terror management theory”, namely, we immediately distance ourselves from being reminded of our mortal nature.

To paraphrase Sarah’s words, this defense mechanism reaffirms our egos, makes us more tribalistic and ultimately leads us to ignore the reality of ageing and death.

Your retirement dream – “a fantasy”

When dreaming of retirement, Sarah points out that we project ourselves as being healthy, active and well. We’ll be bushwalking in national parks, caravanning around the country, playing golf and tending our garden; with our final years perhaps in a commune house with friends – caring and sharing - and then passing away peacefully in our sleep.

She abruptly ends the dream, calling it “a fantasy” as in reality many of us will spend our final months or years in an aged care facility.

Ageing involves someone else, not me

Not only do we deny our own death, we tend to disrespect those Australians who find themselves in residential aged care.

Sarah speaks of the dehumanising language used by politicians and health departments, for example: “not to decant” elderly residential home residents with COVID into hospitals; questioning how much an older person’s life is worth; and stating that 60% of COVID deaths in nursing homes were pre-palliative.

Once you lose your productivity you are a burden to society.

Such thinking, Sarah argues, is built into our language, and is not new. It dates back to Socrates, was practised by some cultures with the elderly killed off at various ages, and captured by writers like Thomas Huxley who in “Brave New World” had the elderly turned into fertiliser at 60.

Public interest, or that of media editors-in-chief, on the topic of reforming our aged care system is apathetic. Sarah compared the media coverage of the 2019 Banking Royal Commission to the 2021 Aged Care Royal Commission; the latter attracted 300% less media coverage.

Leaves us without ambition

In closing her address, Sarah summarised that our denial of death, fantasies about our own ageing, and apathy are root causes to us not applying enough ambition to reforming the Australian aged care system.

Despite a Royal Commission with 148 recommendations, currently, in Australia, we are not designing an aged care system that any of us wish to enter. As Sarah points out, we need to be adopting the more ambitious models found overseas where aged care living is co-located with universities and child care centres creating intergenerational mixes.

We will all experience the aged care system at some point, whether for ourselves or for a loved one and I encourage all readers to speak to their “new” local Federal member about the recommendations of the Royal Commission and seizing the opportunity to create a “best in class” aged care system for Australia.

For more commentary from Sarah, refer to this “Inside Story” article, Magical Thinking and The Aged Care Crisis



If you are seeking care for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to call me, Danielle Robertson, for an initial discussion on how to set up the right care, support and assistance at the right time and in the right place.
- Contact Danielle - For An Impartial & Confidential Conversation



[1] Sarah, as a witness in the Aged Care Royal Commission (2018-2021), shared her father’s adverse experience in residential care. She is the Professor of Creative Writing and Literary Studies at the Queensland University of Technology. For more background: https://www.sarahhollandbatt.com/about

[2] Sydney Writers' Festival: Sarah Holland-Batt on Our Denial of Ageing

[3] It brings to mind a similar statement famously made by Steve Jobs in his 2005 Stanford University commencement address:



Danielle Robertson

Danielle Robertson

Working with you and your support network to get the right care outcomes for you and your loved ones. Danielle Robertson is founder and CEO of DR Care Solutions, offering aged care and disability care concierge services and expertise on how to set up the right care, support and assistance for your loved one, at the right time and in the right place. Danielle's experience in the Australian care sector spans over three and a half decades. Now that's a lot of experience, wisdom and networks!