Mar 26, 2024

Addressing aged care reluctance in Australia & industry reforms

HC March article 1
With 1.1 million Australians over the age of 65 requiring support and care, the aged care sector forms a vital part of life for many older Australians. [Source: Supplied]

Entering your twilight years can be a challenging experience – time has this funny effect of wearing our bodies down, even with the wonders of modern medicine. As we age, we sometimes require further assistance, whether in-home care or deciding to enter an aged care facility.

In an ageing nation such as Australia, this changing demographic is transforming the role of care – with 1.1 million Australians over the age of 65 requiring support and care, the aged care sector forms a vital part of life for many older Australians.

In recent years, aged care has faced increasing scrutiny – as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has highlighted a range of areas where operators need to improve facilities. As a result, for many ageing Australians, the idea of going into care can raise complicated feelings for both themselves and their loved ones.

For those completing a direct entry MSN or similar healthcare qualification, Australia’s attempt at industry reforms in the aged care sector can provide a useful case study in some of the ways that families can begin to talk about aged care, in a way that treats the views of elderly Australians with dignity and respect.

An ageing demographic

Like many developed nations, Australia is currently experiencing a shift in demographics. While Australia has been at the forefront of many innovations, such as Howard Florey’s work in the medical applications of penicillin, and the commercialisation of the cochlear implant, the impacts of broader healthcare developments have seen the life expectancy for Australians lift dramatically throughout the 20th and 21st century.

Over a century, the life expectancy for both men and women born in Australia has grown to 79.3 and 83.9 years of age respectively. As a result, many Aussies are living longer and more fruitful lives than ever before.

This change in demographics is expected to transform the needs of the healthcare sector. With forecasts projecting that by 2050 more than one-quarter of the population will be over the age of 65, it’s expected that healthcare funding will increasingly shift to support aged care facilities and in-home care.

Embedded perceptions of aged care

Having a conversation about any topic can sometimes be tricky. Over time, people formulate views and develop biases, both conscious and unconscious. For example, many people perceive that the older one gets, the less capable one may be of living independently – assuming that once you reach a certain age, it must be time to pack up the house and move into a home.

This idea of being older meaning that you’re somehow less capable is a form of ageism – and is quite common across many cultures around the world. The reality couldn’t be any further from the truth – while many Aussies retire in their fifties and sixties, the average age of those entering aged care facilities is much older, with research indicating that the average age of residential aged care residents is much closer to 85.

The reality is that these perceptions paint aged care in a negative light – that aged care is a place where people go to live their final days. Ultimately, aged care should not simply be considered a last resort – rather, an opportunity for those who may require a little more assistance, but are no longer able to support themselves at home.

HC March article 2
image caption: It’s crucial to remember that discussions about care are not a single conversation and may be had over an extended period of time. [Source: Supplied]

Beginning conversations on care

Beginning a conversation about ageing can be hard – often, adults don’t want to face the reality of their surroundings, even if a solution is relatively simple.

Professor Lee-Fay Low, a researcher who has spent their career involved in research around aged care and the sector more broadly, identified four key points to make when tackling conversations on care. Her findings, published online, give us a solid grounding for some of the strategies that you can take when having a conversation about aged care.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that aged care doesn’t have to be the first step. Consider exploring the available options on My Aged Care, a government-run initiative that helps provide information on the different types of support that are available to older Australians, including in-home care opportunities.

Secondly, it’s crucial to remember that discussions about care are not a single conversation. For many families, these conversations may be had over an extended period – discussing options and being aware of any concerns they have can help identify what services will best suit their needs. Taking time to understand how someone may feel about going into care, and demonstrating empathy, can go a long way to providing reassurance and comfort.

Thirdly, understanding what aged care options are available, and taking the time to research and discover what’s available, can go a long way towards informed decision-making. You don’t have to immediately sign on to a facility, it’s OK to explore what’s available – some facilities may have greater levels of support available for those who are experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, for example.

Finally, it’s important to understand your options if a loved one no longer can make decisions. That may be through the appointment of an enduring guardian, that can make choices about health and lifestyle. This can sometimes be difficult to rationalise – but just remember, ultimately any conversation about aged care should come from a place of love and respect.

Industry reforms transforming aged care

To address the issues in the aged care sector, a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was established in 2018 to bring to light some of the quality issues that impacted aged care. The findings, published in 2021, aim to drive positive changes to the Aged Care industry and could help improve the day-to-day experience of Australians living in aged care.

A multi-billion dollar investment package was announced following the publication of the final report, with investments totalling more than fifteen billion dollars announced to address key issues presented by the Royal Commission. The industry reforms tackle many areas of concern, enabling investment to improve all facets of the care of elderly Australians, from improvements to home care support to broader investment in the aged care workforce.

Industry reform in Australia is going a long way to address concerns about the aged care sector as a whole. As standards continue to improve, it’s hoped that in the years to come, older Australians will feel more confident that their needs are addressed when entering care facilities.

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