What’s wrong with aged care in Australia?

Most people think that aged care is just about old people in nursing homes.

But, in reality, aged care is everyone’s business.

The combination of an ageing population and increased longevity means that there will be an unprecedented number of seniors in the coming decades. By 2050, over one quarter of the population will be aged over 65.

In practical terms, our rapidly increasing senior population will affect every individual Australian in some way, whether it is in regard to families or friends who require a greater level of support to remain living independently, or businesses needing to more seriously consider the growing senior consumer marketplace.

When it comes to care, our senior population is not only the concern of the aged care industry.  Every age group is involved, whether as families, friends or all facets of the health system. Apart from paediatrics and obstetrics, aged care is becoming the core business of most hospitals, doctors, specialists, allied health professionals and other related services.

This is a significant change to our national demography, so it’s imperative that all services, from government to private, commercial to community, plan for this by transforming their products and services to meet the booming seniors market. The consumer market is destined to change radically as many product and service providers finally focus on how best to appeal to and support the ageing population.

All levels of government will need to plan for senior-friendly communities which prioritise accessibility and safety. Housing stock needs to meet adaptability standards and be more supported by better transportation, greater recreation and community facilities, and virtual options for accessing health services and communicating with families and friends.

The aged care industry is just a single spoke, albeit a critical one, in the support required for an ageing Australia. 

Much negative press circulates about the aged care industry.

For every negative story about aged care homes, there are hundreds of positive stories about the love, compassion and support which aged care workers provide to seniors, despite seriously limited resources. The industry is well aware it cannot survive on the passion of aged care workers alone, so it is currently undertaking a transformational process in order to meet the increased demand for senior care, as well as create a more individualised, consumer centred approach to services. 

Finally reform has begun to transform what has been, for far too long, an old, complex and underfunded system. The last two years have seen significant progress being made, most notably the Productivity Commission’s report on Caring for Older Australians and the Labor government’s response with the Living Longer Living Better reform agenda. Both these initiatives are important first steps in the process of creating a simpler, more responsive, consumer-focused aged care system.

So, in summary, the individual sector challenges which remain include:

needs to solve the funding issue. The user-pays option has many critics. Seniors have paid a lifetime of taxes, so should they pay for aged care, eroding their assets and their children’s inheritance in the process? In 2050, one quarter of the population will be aged over 65, while only 2.7 people will be working for every retiree. This figure is less than half the current workforce ratio. There will not be the same level of taxation revenue to fully fund aged care. Whether we like it or not, this is the reality. Some Australians would rather see their parents spend all their savings to ensure that they live the best possible life, and if this means using their assets to give them the highest quality aged care support, then this option should be debated ever more vigorously.

Aged Care Service providers…
need to think differently about the services which they provide as well as the way in which they operate. More consideration should be given to enabling technologies to assist in transforming service models, creating efficiencies and new support options for seniors in their own homes.  Smarter business systems are required to understand the cost of care and to track individualised budgets and reporting for seniors to enable both flexibility and innovative service options. Baby boomers are not going to accept that nursing homes and traditional community care support systems are their only options. They will want much greater choice and control over how and where they want to live. This is a new mindset for many aged care providers who, in turn, will need to work hard on adopting new models and philosophies of care which truly focus on wellness, restorative care and flexibility.

will benefit if they plan well for Act Three of their lives. With our ever-increasing life expectancy (currently around 83 years), 65 is no longer considered old. For many, reaching the age of 65 means another 20+ years to live, learn, love and save!  And this stage is not about booking into a nursing home. It’s more about staying both healthy and independent, in our own homes, while remaining connected with family, friends and the community for as long as possible. Important questions for seniors to ask themselves include: ‘What do I want to achieve, experience, learn and offer along the way?’ as well as ‘If I do become frail, how do I want my care to be handled?’.

Every Australian…
needs to change their perception about older people, to value and celebrate our senior population and ensure that we have the capacity to connect with, participate in and contribute to our communities on an ongoing basis. There are some great examples of seniors being significantly involved in their communities, in schools, volunteering, sport, arts and more.But generally speaking, aside from some Indigenous and ethnic populations, for the most part the wisdom, skills, experience, achievements and stories of seniors are sadly undervalued.

In summary…
care specialists at The Eden Alternative talk about the three plagues of ageing: boredom, loneliness and helplessness.  Much can be gained from ensuring that seniors are connected with their communities, families and friends for as long as possible and are valued for their meaningful contributions. We must begin to celebrate both the ageing process and our senior population and also make sure that we utilise these very highly valuable community assets.

So to return to the original question, What is wrong with aged care in Australia? 

Whilst the reforms in the aged care industry are on the right track, aged care is still considered a problem for older people and nursing homes, rather than an opportunity for all of us.

It’s crucial that Australian businesses, government departments and health services acknowledge that aged care is an issue which transcends generations and public and private sectors. It’s high time we recognised that the challenge of achieving best practice aged care is now the responsibility of each and every Australian.

Written by Jennene