New study finds older Australians want independence in aged care

Date: 28/10/2002

A leading aged care expert is calling for better aged care options, after a new study shows most Australians would prefer aged care services in their own home rather than enter a nursing home or hostel.

Professor John McCallum, Dean of the College of Social and Health Sciences at the University of Western Sydney, led a research team that surveyed 1500 elderly people born before 1930 and asked them about their preference for aged care if they were unable to care for themselves.

The results reveal that 59% of Australians aged 70 years and over would prefer to receive home community care over other options such as residential or hospital care and living with their family.

Speaking at the 6th Global Conference on Ageing, Professor McCallum says the study shows that elderly Australians are determined to maintain their independence.

"Only 27% of those surveyed expressed a desire to go into a nursing home or hostel and a mere 5% wanted to depend on their family," says Professor McCallum.

"Older Australians don't want to lose control of their lives in residential care. They would rather have services available to them in their own home.

"The vast majority want to remain independent and stay out of nursing homes and hostels for as long as they can."

Professor McCallum believes that a person's preference for home or residential care is likely to be influenced by their current circumstances.

"The study showed that 62% of those who expressed a preference for receiving home community care are currently living in their own house, whereas over 90% of those who preferred residential care are already living in a nursing home or hostel.

"National surveys show that over half of older Australians who cannot care for themselves are currently not in their own homes. It's likely that many find themselves in residential care because there's no other option available to them."

Professor McCallum says there needs to be better and more flexible aged care options for older people who can't look after themselves.

"At the moment there's no step between leaving your own home and entering residential care. It's almost a forced choice for the elderly who can't look after themselves to enter a nursing home or hostel," he says.

"We can expect a strong growth in preferences for independent living in Australia as the baby-boomers get older, so we need better community care programs and more flexible aged care housing options so older people can maximise their independence.

"At the moment we have a one-size-fits-all model of aged care, with dormitory, congregate-style accommodation that shuts off older people from the rest of the outside world.

"We need to develop a more integrated approach, with smaller units that enable older people to still feel a part of their community."

Professor McCallum says the research breaks new ground in learning what older Australians want.

"It's the first time that older people have been asked what they want from their aged care services," says Professor McCallum.

"It's a serious concern that we have so little knowledge about critical choices in old age - the fact is we know more about why teenagers wear their American baseball caps backwards than we do about what older people want.

"If the majority of older Australians want to maintain their independence in their later years, we have to start developing our aged care services to meet these preferences."

Professor McCallum is presenting the paper 'Care Preferences of older Australians 70+' at 3.15pm Tuesday 29th October 2002 at the 6th Global Conference on Ageing 'Maturity Matters' at the Burswood International Convention Centre, Perth.

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