We’re examining ageing, the aged care system and the options available for ourselves and our loved ones, thanks to our partner Mable. In this first piece, we debunk some myths associated with the aged care system.
Ageing is a life stage, just like early parenthood, midlife and retirement.
But so often discussions on this life stage are avoided and put off. Instead of making plans around ageing and considering the highs and lows it will bring – as well as how we expect the Aged Care System to play a part – we’re reluctant to face ageing and even more hesitant to talk about aged care.
It’s time to smash through the stigma and break the silence, because aged care is something we all need to think about – for our loved ones, for our community and also for ourselves.
In Australia, the hours spent caring for adult family members has doubled for women over the past year. We are all growing older, so let’s start having sensible and timely conversations.
Here, we bust some of the myths associated with the aged care system and shine a light on the opportunities available.
Myth: You only need to think about aged care when you can’t cope at home
A stitch in time really can save nine. Don’t wait until you have no other choices. Taking advantage of the system sooner rather than later can reinforce us, prevent or stave off problems and extend our health and wellbeing, helping us to continue to live safe, connected lives.
“Lots of people hide or deny problems they might be facing at home because they see accepting care as defeat, when it should be the opposite: a way of taking charge. Better to actively get an assessment than have a fall or critical incident and be told the only option is a nursing home,” says Rachel Debeck, Chief Operating Officer at Mable. “We recommend people get assessed and enter the system as soon as they start thinking they may need some support .”
For children and family members of ageing relatives, it’s important to have sensible, helpful and authentic conversations about care options. “The aged care system is there to support people to live full lives. So, older people should be asked ‘what do you want out of life?’ and ‘how can we make this happen,” says Dr Carmel Laragy, an aged care expert at the University of Melbourne.
Myth: Nursing homes are the only option
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the majority of older Australians actually live at home, often with some form of support or care, meaning just 5.2 per cent live in an aged care facility.
“For people who want to stay in their own home, self-managing their home care package is an option. A family member or other responsible person often helps with the arrangements. Everyone with an aged home care package is under the supervision of a service provider. A small number of service providers support people to self-manage,” explains Dr Laragy, who conducted COTA Australia’s ‘Self-management in Home Care’ project.
Through her extensive research, Dr Laragy has found that the biggest barrier in the way of embracing home care through most traditional service providers is the thought of a stranger knocking at the front door. That needn’t be the case, she says: “A feature of self-management that many people like is being able to choose their own workers. They often build a more personal and long term relationship with the workers compared to having agency provided staff, who can be strangers, coming into their home to provide personal care.”
Myth: All aged care providers are the same
Just like our internet plans, electricity providers and super funds, not all aged care package providers operate equally. Dr Laragy encourages everyone to know and consider their options when it comes to choosing a package provider. For example what fees do they charge and do they give you the option of self-managing?. “Many people like self-management because it enables them to retain their independence, enhance their quality of life and have control over their spending, but it does involve investing a bit of time initially working out the system, understanding the rules and deciding whether to use a financial service or to collate receipts themselves,” she says. “Some people [in the evaluation] who were self-managing reported that it was easier than working through a service provider once they learnt how to do it.”
The benefits of self-management include more freedom and control over your package and less admin costs. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found that some service providers can take up to half of a client’s funding in admin fees, compared to some self-management where admin costs are only five per cent. In the Aged Care Royal Commission Final Report, Commissioner Pagone stated “people receiving the highest level of care at home, on average, get only eight hours and 45 minutes of services each week”. This is from approximately $52,000 of annual funding.
With self-management, the savings on fees mean they might get up to 22 hours. That’s a lot more time to use on the services they require most, that might be cleaning, cooking, transport, social activities or doctor’s appointments. “Moving to a self-managed home care package can be life changing for people who’ve only been able to get showered four times a week and can now shower every single day, get out and about in their community and visit their local bowls club,” says Debeck.
Myth: I can get a home care package as soon as I need it
Currently, the home care package system has a 160,000 cap on it. Following the Royal Commission into aged care, which recommended completely uncapping the system, the government announced an extra 80,000 new home care packages to be released over the next two years. There is still a three-to-six-month waiting list for low-level packages and up to 18-months for a high-level package. Remember how we said it’s best to apply for support sooner rather than later?
Often people start with a lower level of support – some Meals on Wheels delivered or someone to mow the lawn. If they require more support they will need a Home Care Package. A level one package is around $8,000 annually while a level four package can be up to $55,000 a year. “Understanding what’s available and how the system works is so critical,” says Dr Laragy. “It’s worth investing a bit of time researching different options because service providers vary greatly and having the right support can fundamentally change people’s life.”
Myth: Getting old sucks
Unfortunately, stereotypes around ageing prevail. “The dominant stereotype of older people as frail and vulnerable is unfairly negative and not supported by facts,” explains Debeck. “Even for the many of us who will seek support from the aged care system, it doesn’t have to be about dependency and loss. It’s just as much about retaining our independence and continuing to live well, stay safe and connected and be able to follow our passions.”
We need to flip our attitudes to getting older and even to the aged care system if we want to get beyond surviving and continue thriving. Research has shown that people who think positively about getting older live more than seven years longer. So let’s toast to ageing, positivity and longevity.
Mable is a website enabling people who are ageing, as well as those supporting them, to find and choose their own team of care and support workers. The Mable team believe that everyone should have options when they age and is all about positive ageing. To find out more about Mable, visit Mable.com.au