What do Australians really think about ageing and aged care?

No matter the age and stage of life they’re currently in, Australians want to live independently at home for as long as possible – and they want more help to do so, according to new research from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The two new research papers released today cover Australians’ attitudes towards ageing and aged care.

The first, What Australians think of Ageing and Aged Care, was prepared for the royal commission by Roy Morgan, who surveyed 10,000 people on their views on ageing and aged care.

The second, They look after you, you look after them: Community attitudes to ageing and aged care, was prepared for the royal commission by Ipsos, and is the result of 35 focus groups and 30 in-depth interviews conducted from July to September 2019.

The research explored why younger Australians may present negative attitudes towards older people.

“Negative perceptions are seen by many as contributing to older people being overlooked or ‘invisible’ within our society,” the papers said.

“The absence of older people from the workplace, combined with the limited ways in which many younger adults encounter them in their day-to-day lives, means that many people have little exposure to older Australians.

“The wider population are seen by some as affording older people less respect and value than given to previous generations.”

However, almost all those surveyed said they valued older people and wanted them to be properly looked after when they did need support or care.

The papers revealed that Australians of all ages wanted assistance to live independently in their own home during their retirement years rather than ever having to go to an aged care facility. They confirmed the need for major reform to the aged care system in order to meet community expectations.

“Australians want the government and community to assist older people to live well in their own homes for as long as possible. The royal commission has been investigating how to achieve that,” said royal commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs.

The general perception of aged care facilities was damning.

“The facilities are seen as depressing, clinical environments and as places to die rather than places to live,” stated the researchers.

“The nature of the environment in aged care facilities is seen as contributing to a decline in health and quality of life, and reduction of life expectancy.”

The royal commission says most Australians are setting themselves up to age in place for as long as possible, but that some levels of care don’t come cheap and may not always come from immediate family and relatives.

“The large majority of older people who are living independently enjoy happy, healthy and active lives. They make lifestyle choices to keep themselves independent and healthy as long as possible, including spending time exercising,” said a royal commission statement.

“However, a number of older people need support to continue living independently, such as help with shopping, cooking, cleaning and attending medical appointments.”

While most people would prefer to receive this support from their family and friends, the bulk of this higher level support ends up coming from paid help.

Family support for older relatives is far more common among people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Any higher-level assistance, such as help with dressing, eating, going to the bathroom and nursing care, tends to come from paid help, as most people think it would be inappropriate and burdensome for family.

Still, people of all ages have a strong preference to remain living in their own home should they ever need support or care. Only 25 per cent of older people would prefer to live in a facility should they need that level of care.

The federal government’s announcement last week of more than 6000 new home care packages should help some older Australians stay at home for longer. This is on top of the 50,000 in-home packages added since the 2018/19 budget at a cost of $3 billion.

However, more than 104,000 older Australians were still waiting for packages that had already been approved for them.

Around 84 per cent of adults surveyed had visited a residential aged care facility and had a very negative opinion of life in these facilities, saying residents often seemed lonely, did not have control over their lives and were not happy, even if they did have access to medical care and were safe in comfortable, well-maintained accommodation.

Overall, respondents were divided on whether residents actually received the help they needed, whether they were respected, and whether there were enough activities to keep them active and entertained.

Most people had little idea about how much the government spent on aged care, only 9 per cent knew about the government’s aged care information service, My Aged Care, and only 4 per cent knew about the aged care regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

The lack of awareness about the aged care system may explain why governments have neglected to fix major, obvious problems.

The royal commission’s interim report showed there had been 20 major government inquiries over the past two decades, yet many of the recommendations had been ignored.

Read the papers at www.agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au

Have you ever visited an aged care facility? What was your impression? Do you live in an aged care facility or other care facility? How do you find it? Do you agree with the reasons for perceptions of older people?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?
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