News & Events

Champion of aged serves OCAV for 14 years

August 17, 2016

Most of Robert Helme’s working life has been spent in the study and care of older people, so he knows a thing or two about the subject. Fortunately he has shared a great deal of that knowledge in his 14 years as a member of the OCAV Council.

Professor Helme joined the Council in 2002 and believes his medical expertise has given him the opportunity to challenge and discuss issues that non-medical Council members may not be aware are important.

“When we are told ‘this is the best way’, I ask, ‘well how do we know’,” he said. “There are many gaps in our understanding of health issues around ageing but we have to keep asking the questions.”

Prof Helme is Chair of OCAV’s Care committee and a member of the Communications Steering Group.

While there are many committed clinicians and researchers working in the are of ageing, it is still a discipline of medicine that needs massive investment if Australia is to adequately manage and care for its rapidly ageing population.

The call for commitment and funding has been a refrain of Prof Helme’s for decades, especially after he took over as the Director of the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) in 1987; he continued in that position until 2000. The Institute was set up for gerontological research and geriatric medicine.  During his tenure he championed some of the early work and trials on drug therapies to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

His professional life certainly makes him a voice to be heard when it comes to the ageing population. Prof Helme has retired from clinical practice as a Consultant Neurologist, but he now undertakes medicolegal work. He was in the Department of Medicine at Monash University before becoming Professor of Geriatric Medicine at The University of Melbourne. He is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Medicine Royal Melbourne Hospital, University of Melbourne.

In his time on the OCAV Council he has witnessed a shift from an introspective approach to care to a more evidence-based approach, which he believes leads to improved standards and better trained staff. “We need to be aware of our limitations and strive to be best practice as well as leading the field in innovative care” he said. “This takes time, investment and hard work.”

While Prof Helme has been immersed in a culture of care for the ageing, he agrees that society in general, and many in Government have an ageist attitude with little appetite for serious funding of research in this discipline.

“For a lot of people, looking in the mirror at their own future is daunting and they are fearful of ageing, and all that can come with that, because of limited exposure to the facts” Prof Helme said.

Over the years Prof Helme believes there have been improvements in many areas of aged care, with Federal Government accreditation providing readily available evaluation tools that can be used to measure things such as pain.  And that’s a topic close to his heart and professional pursuits.  If he was in charge of the research purse strings then pain is something he would invest a lot of research and treatment dollars into– the second most common symptom of ageing after hearing loss.

Funding into ageing must happen, or the cost of not doing so will be so great ‘we will go over the cliff’, as the population ages and the demands on health services increase.

“Essentially, we go down hill from the age of 34. Of course there are some people who could run a marathon at 100, but they could not run it in the time of a 34 year old. It is how we are genetically structured,” he said.

Prof Helme believes the OCAV set up of providing continuity of care for residents from independent living to aged care facilities, if necessary, is the preferable style of delivering services for the aged. But he would also like to see some serious research into this area to support his ‘suspicion’ that the OCAV model is the preferred method.




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