“One or two generations ago, people were dying earlier from disease or in wars, and it was much more visible in the community and to families,” Professor Tieman explains. “Much of that context has now gone, because we’ve had such success with medical intervention. And so we’re having to rediscover dying in a different way.”
This is crucial, she adds, when we consider Australia’s ageing population. Rather than being solely a family responsibility, caring for the elderly is now falling to government and private services, as adult children are becoming more geographically mobile, and families with two working parents are becoming the norm, meaning they have less time to devote to care.
With this shift from a private, family matter to something often reliant on community assistance, Australians are becoming more open about the whole process of ageing
“In the past four or five years, it’s become more normal to talk about death and dying in Australia, because it’s affecting more people within the community,” says Professor Tieman.
“There are death cafes, where people get together over a cup of tea and share their stories; there are online courses building death literacy; and the Groundswell project even hosts an annual ‘Dying to Know Day’. This suggests we are creating new rituals and new understandings as a community around death and dying.”
The second factor Professor Tieman cites for the success of CareSearch is its ease of access. Being online, it’s accessible 24/7, which is important considering sickness and death don’t keep office hours.
The project is technologically innovative, too, and continually evolving.
“We’re already figuring out how to incorporate chatbots, and how to use the power of technology to create better access with, say, voice-activated software,” says Professor Tieman. “We’re looking at how we can maintain the quality of the information and its trustworthiness, using these expanding options.”
“We also need to reflect how people are learning and finding information,” she adds. “Once upon a time, we learned about things from our doctors, our churches and our communities. Now, information is much more accessible and much more immediate. We get it from TV, from our phones, through the internet and social media. People are discovering different ways of communicating and understanding, which bring with them new ways of discussing this.”