New Quality Standards: What term should we use when referring to residents?


With the avalanche of changes consuming the aged care industry lately, the very fundamental issue of how we refer to older people receiving care has become confused.

The incoming quality standards refer to older Australians receiving care as ‘consumers’ or ‘care recipients’.

Yet, it’s also commonplace for those living in aged care facilities to be called ‘residents’.

People receiving care at home are referred to as ‘clients’.

All these different labels can lead to confusion, not only for older people themselves, but also for aged care providers, families, and anyone else involved in the care of older people.

How can we be sure we are correctly understanding the new Single Set of Quality Standards when these terms are used, and how can we communicate clearly without creating confusion?

This issue was raised at the recent Criterion Quality in Aged Care conference held in Sydney last week, and since then, HelloCare has been asked by a number of aged care operators about the correct terminology.

“Very aware of that confusion”

A member of the audience asked Janet Anderson, the new head of the Quality and Safety Commission, what words we should use to describe older people receiving care.

“We are a bit confused what are the real names,” the woman remarked.

Ms Anderson said, “I think that’s a very fair question. A number of us are very aware of that confusion.”

“I think we need to work a little harder and ensuring that when we’re using a particular term we also use similes for those other terms so people who are reading it or hearing it do understand,” Ms Anderson said.

A spokesperson from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission told HelloCare the terms used in official documents are ‘consumer’ and ‘aged care recipient’.

“The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission uses the terms ‘consumer’ and ‘aged care recipient’ to describe people receiving Commonwealth funded aged care services in residential and home care settings within official correspondence and policy documents,” the spokesperson said.

“This terminology is consistent with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Act 2018, and applies to all people receiving Commonwealth funded aged care services.”

It’s still okay to use the word ‘resident’

At the conference, Ms Anderson said, “We tend not to use ‘recipient’ because it particularises it to a care setting, whereas when you use consumer or client or recipient, it’s blind to the nature of the provider.”

But the spokesperson for the Commission said it “does not see any issue with consumers being referred to as ‘residents’ in aged care residential services, and may also use this term informally when visiting a service.”

At the end of the day, what matters most is that the people we are talking about are happy with the name they are given. If they want to be called ‘residents’, shouldn’t they?


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  1. Is it any wonder our dear loved ones are being treated as they are (or should I say aren’t) when time is wasted on the above debate!

    Honestly Quality and Safety Commissioner please focus on your title and speak to delivering dignified quality and safe care.

    Should we rename Providers because that’s confusing to the residents when the business clearly don’t meet their brief to provide.

    ‘Breaches’ of the Aged Care Act was changed to ‘non compliance’ to soften the impact of breaking the rules. It didn’t improve care provision to the resident

    Words are script on a document …. Please please channel more time and effort into actually nurturing and respecting our loved ones and not on meaningless interpretation of words on paperwork

  2. I personally hate the word consumer. I would not like to be referred to as “a consumer”. Consumer sees a person as an action (consuming), rather than a person ie client. I work in community health and visit people in their homes. I refer to them as clients. Consumer just sounds so dehumanising somehow. I think resident is appropriate for people living in residential facilities as it clearly indicates where they are rather then having to ask another question, if they are receiving a service in a facility or in their own home.

  3. My wwite was a resident of a care home that had a sign on the front door saying”” Be careful of when entering or exiting as inmates may escape” The care matched the tenor of the sign I worked hard to find her a better place, shortly after she arrived there . Her behaviours such as chair dragging disappeared at the new residential facility. The terminology reflected the care.I noted that the facility was complaining in one of your newsletters and suggesting care standards were over the top

  4. The word consumer is also used in many instances for the “carer” as they are the ones receiving the service on behalf of the person needing the service. If the prerson in need does not have the capacity to make decisions then the carer or guardian may have to do that. In research the carers are often referred to as consumers.

  5. Great article Caroline! I agree. They should be called whatever they prefer. In my experience, most prefer to be referred to as a “resident” of their care community, just as they would if they were “residents” in their previous home community prior to relocating to the care center. The bottom line is exactly what you stated, “most is that the people we are talking about are happy with the name they are given” Thanks for the article!

  6. In my opinion there needs to be a differentiation between older people who are still cognitively aware but not able to live alone for other reasons and people with dementia. In a facility they should be called ‘residents’ because really the facility is there new residence and that should be where the control of the facility begins and ends. For some strange reason the facilities have taken it upon themselves to become places of incarceration with no legal right to do so. The management take a level of control over the residents’ lives that is unnecessary and demeaning. The residents can be ‘cared for’ without being controlled and this is where the term ‘consumer’ falls down completely.


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