Better general health and medical care, as well as improved access to education and employment, has led to people living longer, healthier lives. By 2050, the number of people around the world over 65 will double and those over 80 will more than triple. Therefore, developing strategies to care for older generations into the future is becoming increasingly important. The Australian government’s decision in recent years to cap fees private aged care businesses can charge, temporarily hampered company share prices in the sector. However, since then, the aged care sector has adapted, and an industry once dominated by government institutions has grown into a booming private sector.
Why the Changes?
Australia’s aged care system is currently world class. However, not only is life expectancy steadily increasing, the gap between male and female life expectancy is narrowing. This means the prevalence of couple households among those aged 65 years and over is increasing. At the same time, the average age at which traditional aged care services are accessed is steadily rising and currently sits at around 83. Overall, fewer older people are moving into aged care and the average length of stay in aged care is only two to three years. These trends indicate that aged care as we know it is transforming into an end-of-life, or a ‘fourth age’, care service. Therefore, the government needed to make changes to ensure the system:
- remained sustainable and affordable
- offered choice and flexibility for consumers
- encouraged businesses to invest and grow
- provides diverse and rewarding career options.
Currently government funding for aged care is predominantly linked to beds and therefore to facilities. This enforces the creation of distinct precincts and places specifically for older people. Government policy is a hindrance to the creation of facilities with mixed age and acuity cohorts. This is problematic because many consumers in the third age of life will actively avoid products and services that categorise them as “aged” or “retired”. Lifestyle options that provide physical separation from mainstream society, such as “homes” are therefore increasingly unpopular. In addition, couples experiencing varied levels of deteriorating health also face the heart-breaking reality of having to live separately.
In the future, government funding for residential care will adopt a consumer directed care model. Funding will follow the consumer, not the facility, opening the industry up to a variety of new, more societally integrated models of care that are able to accommodate a variety of patient needs. Group Homes Australia (GHA) is an innovator in the aged care area. Their care model allows elderly people to live together in an actual home, catering services to the needs of each resident. The residents wake up in their own time and participate in the cooking, baking, gardening and shopping. What businesses like GHA are doing is exciting and providing a hopeful picture for the future of aged care.
Moving towards consumer-directed care is a big part of the changes the government is making to the aged care system. It means people will have greater choice, and care will be based on their needs—individualising them instead of institutionalising them.