After losing her mother, this grandmother retrained in aged care and went back to work at 74

Leonora Brown
After 12 years out of the workforce, Leonora Brown found herself in need of a job.(ABC News: Niki Burnside)

The single mother of three has multiple degrees, has worked in at least three different industries, and suffered the loss of a parent after years of being their carer.

So when she was left with the realisation, in her early 70s, that she would need to get herself a job, Ms Brown knew she would have to find a way.

Twelve years as a carer

Ms Brown, 74, was living in Braidwood, just outside Canberra, and working in horticulture when her mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration and dementia.

As the eldest child in the family, she decided to take on the responsibility of her mother’s care.

For 12 years she was tied to the Sydney residence the pair shared, unable to work or travel as her mother’s health deteriorated.

Then, when her mother passed away in 2017, she decided to travel for the first time in over a decade, while also gifting a significant portion of her inheritance to her children.

It was 12 months later when Ms Brown realised she would need to pick up work once more to make ends meet, and she again turned to study to make it possible.

After her experience caring for her mother, Ms Brown decided aged care would suit her skills and interests, despite her concerns about getting a job over the age of 70.

“I thought I was limited, but I felt good about the fact that I had experience in aged care, even though it was on a personal level,” she said.

Leonora Brown with her mother, for whom she was a carer for 12 years.(Supplied)

Prospective aged care workers are expected to pass a physical exam, and Ms Brown was apprehensive about whether she would overcome that hurdle. But she passed, and was accepted by Baptist Care — just the second company she applied to.

“I think they must have seen something in me, because they really helped me get that job,” she said.

‘You have to be empathetic’

Ms Brown now works three days a week, caring for clients in their homes.

She spends her other days maintaining her hobbies, including practising Tai Chi, and spending time with friends and family.

Instead of taking her away from her interests, Ms Brown said she loved her work.

“There’s nothing nicer than going to a client and seeing their face light up and seeing that they’re thinking, ‘the carer’s here, it’s all going to be OK,'” she said.

“The carer might be the only person that they see from day to day, and it’s so much more than just helping them bathe and with feeding and everything.”

Ms Brown said that despite some of the physical demands of the job, she was able to manage well, and that her work gave her a purpose and a “reason to get out of bed in the morning”.

She also said it was important for people of all ages to access work, because it meant there was a diversity of people in the profession.

And in the process of ensuring her own independence, she enjoyed helping others gain a sense of that for themselves through her work.

“Being able to help them or to help them live at home and do the things that they want to continue to do — you have to be empathetic to imagine you’re at one with them, so to speak,” she said.

Ms Brown said she was fortunate enough to own her home outright, so she would probably only have to keep working for another five years — something she considered a “privilege”.

More Australians waiting longer to retire

Ms Brown is one of the many Australians aged over 65 who have had to continue to work to support themselves and their partners.

A report from the Australian Human Rights Commission based on a 2018 survey showed 58 per cent of people expected to retire at 66 years of age or older, and 20 per cent expected to retire at 71 or older.

In 2019, 75 per cent of people aged 55-59 participated in the labour force, up from 70 per cent in 2009.

But the Human Rights Commission found there were barriers for older people remaining in the workforce, even once employed, and many respondents said they thought they would need more flexible work options as they aged.

The commission said one of the key ways organisations could support older Australians was by implementing transition-to-retirement strategies.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson said in a speech to the Diversity Council earlier this year that employers needed to do more to support older Australians, with barriers for older people only worsening in the wake of COVID-19.

She called on employers to take an active role in helping older people stay in the workforce.

“Generational age-based inclusion strategies benefit both employers and employees,” she said.

By Niki Burnside. Article originally appeared on ABC News. Republished with permission.

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