Australia’s aged-care housing options are evolving, here’s what you should know
Australia’s population is ageing and demand for residential aged-care, in-home support, and retirement villages is growing.
From government funded at-home care to over-55s communities, knowing how to navigate this complex and highly competitive industry is crucial to finding the best available option.
According to a recent CoreData white paper, 1.3 million Australians are using aged-care services. The sector represents about 1 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product, with revenue worth more than $20 billion. It is expected to grow by 24 per cent in the next five years.
Kyra-Bae Snell is executive director of CareAbout, an online comparison service that provides independent advice, advocacy, and selection assistance to those looking for residential or at-home care.
“It’s an extraordinarily complex and difficult-to-navigate system, and most people don’t pay attention to it until there’s a need or a crisis,” she said.
“It’s not something people plan for.”
According to CareAbout, the number of providers in Australia’s home care sector has almost doubled to about 800 in the past 18 months. In residential aged care, there are more than 2000.
Ms Snell understands how difficult people find it to navigate the aged-care system – she had the same trouble.
“I found it was such an opaque system and I wasn’t aware of the options,” she said.
“That resulted in a sub-optimal outcome in which the final years were not as good as what they could have been.”
What are the options?
It is widely recognised that supporting older people to stay in their own homes for longer leads to better quality of life and wellbeing.
The government provides income-tested at-home care with funding ranging from $8000 to $49,000 per year.
However, Ms Snell said there were more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for funding. It was essential to plan ahead and apply well in advance if you do not want to be out of pocket.
Residential aged care in Australia costs about $84,000 per person per year, or $88,000 for anyone with dementia, according to a study by Flinders University and the NHMRC Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre, which looked at the costs and outcomes of different models of residential aged care in Australia.
The study confirmed what campaigners for quality aged care in Australia and internationally have long known: Residential facilities that provide a “home-like” model of care are vastly superior to traditional models such as nursing homes, and can be delivered at the same cost.
“Internationally, models of residential aged care are changing, with more emphasis being placed on providing care in an environment that looks and feels more like a home,” the study states.
Better outcomes for residents include higher quality of life, higher consumer-rated quality of care, fewer hospitalisations and fewer potentially inappropriate medications.
Study co-author and senior research fellow Suzanne Dyer said it was important to keep people at home as long as possible, with support.
“Most consumers want at-home care, but the reality is – for many people with dementia, in particular, as the condition advances – residential care still becomes a necessity,” she said.
Dr Dyer said Australia is lagging behind countries such as the Netherlands and Canada in providing best-practice home-like care.
“There are few providers, but there’s a lack of public awareness that care can be provided in this model,” she said.
To resolve this, the researchers developed a six-step guide to assess a facility’s quality of care. It measures: Choice, freedom and self-determination, meaningful activities, feeling useful and valued, individualised care, home-like spaces.
Retirement villages for over-55s are a small but growing segment of Australia’s aged housing market. These communities allow older people to retain a high level of independence, and share facilities with people of a similar age.
However, many have high entry fees and regular management fees.
Residential aged-care homes provide 24-hour care, and can vary greatly in quality and services, making thorough research in the selection process.
An upfront bond of $500,000-$650,000 is generally required (means-tested government funding is available). Ms Snell said most facilities also took 85 per cent of a resident’s aged pension.
Aged-care homes are increasingly used as end-of-life or palliative care options, as the popularity of at-home care increases.
“If you’re looked after well at home, you’re better off. Australians have an aversion to paying for that, but people need to realise it’s an investment in your health,” Ms Snell said.
“It’s a last resort. Lots of people realise that it’s actually cheaper to stay at home.”
To estimate the cost of aged care services, visit the federal government’s My Aged Care website at myagedcare.gov.au.