Freemantle Dockers players Luke McPharlin (left) and Antoni Grover tackle Brisbane Lions player Jonathan Brown which resulted in a serious head injury during the round 1 AFL Brisbane Lions v Fremantle Dockers match at the Gabba, Brisbane, Saturday, March 26, 2011. (AAP Image/ Patrick Hamilton) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Earlier this year a U.S. District Judge approved a deal providing up to $US1 billion to retired NFL players suffering from dementia. The NFL expects 30% of its retired players to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease as a likely result of repeated head trauma incurred during their playing career.

Closer to home, we have recently seen AFL players Matt Maguire and Leigh Adams retire due to ongoing symptoms and concerns relating to on field concussion.

While it’s been claimed that a NFL collision is twice as hard as that of the average AFL collision it’s fair to say that there is a growing concern of the longer-term impact on its players. And while the AFL has gone to great lengths to minimise head contact, there are indications that retired AFL players may likely share a similar fate.

David (not his real name) played Australian Rules Football in the era before full time professionalism. It was a time when players viewed the ability to play on after receiving heavy knocks as a sign of their toughness and courage, and no-one really understood the long term implications of concussion on the brain. Far from the wealth and sports science engulfing the modern day professional players.

Following his VFL career David had a life similar to most; he worked hard, raised a family and looked forward to a modest retirement.

By the time David reached 60 it became apparent something was not right. His growing forgetfulness and mood changes were starting to suggest something more serious than everyday stress. Within a year David was diagnosed with early onset dementia and in need of permanent residential care.

David’s family made the difficult decision to place him into permanent residential care, where the large majority of residents are aged 85 and over. As a result the aged care system is very much catered toward this demographic.

Aged care – specifically, funding aged care costs – is an area a growing number of families seek advice. There are multiple options, difficult to understand and the family is often left feeling as though their only option is to sell the family home (which incidentally can also be the worst option).

The fees are means tested; meaning your income and assets directly affect the fees you pay. For the average resident aged over 85, their wealth has already been accumulated and they are living off savings and possibly an aged pension.

So, what happens when a family member is in need of permanent care and you are still working toward building wealth? This is where the current aged care system fails families of young people in homes.

David’s wife continues to work full time to pay bills and build savings. As a result she incurs care fees of over 40% of their net income. Consider her alternatives – stop working and forfeit her income or divorce David so that her income is not assessed against his aged care costs! Neither options are in the best interest of the family.

David’s situation is relatively unique. In 2010 there were less than 6,500 aged care residents under the age of 65 in Australia. This is perhaps why the issue does not receive so much scrutiny, but it is exactly why it should be addressed.

Perhaps the Government should put this issue on their agenda, review how the income test applies to families in this situation so they are not penalized for simply trying to make ends meet. It seems to me an oversight, rather than intended policy, that the family of a young brain injury sufferer in permanent residential care be subject to the same means testing as an 85 year old.

It is however really pleasing in David’s situation that the AFL Past Players’ Association have been very supportive and have provided some financial support.

I watch this space with interest.

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