They confirmed Australia’s aged care system needed major reform to align with community expectations, said commissioners Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO.
“Australians want the government and community to assist older people to live well in their
own homes for as long as possible,” they said.
Younger people, aged 18 to 69, said they would like family to help when they got older, but people older than 70 didn’t want to burden their families. They wanted help with cooking, cleaning and going to the doctor.
When they needed help dressing, eating and going to the bathroom, older Australians had a strong preference for paid help, saying it was inappropriate for family to provide this type of care.
Roy Morgan Research Institute’s senior research director Gerry Bardsley was struck by the perception of loneliness throughout the findings, with social isolation an issue for older people living at home and in aged care.
About 25 per cent of people older than 70 live by themselves, and the report found nearly 10 per cent of older Australians surveyed did not know another older person other than someone living with them.
‘You look forward to living but not getting older.’
Many residents in aged care or those receiving care to stay at home don’t receive any visitors. Only 32 per cent of people who knew someone living in residential aged care facility visited daily or weekly. About 31 per cent visited less frequently than monthly, and 20 per cent had never visited.
Most people knew little about the aged care system, the research found. The commissioners said this could explain why governments had “neglected to fix major and obvious problems” and how the recommendations of 20 government inquiries had been ignored.
Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing, said the results didn’t surprise him.
“We know there are significant numbers of people who never receive a visitor,” he said. Many people didn’t like to visit because they “couldn’t deal with it”. Others felt guilt because they had made a choice to put “mum in care”.
‘Once you’ve got grey hair, they think you have one foot in the grave.’
The report also underlined a massive shift in preferences, with most people now wanting to continue living at home. Yet the system hadn’t kept up with demand for home care packages that started from nearly nothing 15 years ago.
Mr Yates said it was in the government’s interests to support people to stay at home for as long as possible because it was cheaper and it was what people wanted.
Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $326 million funding package to provide 6500 new home care packages.
There are still more than 100,000 people on home care waiting lists, including almost 22,000 who are the highest level of care. Mr Yates said the delays of more than a year for higher level care were unacceptable because those waiting often ended up in an aged care facility.
Julie Power is a senior reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.