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How older Australians can stay at home – opinion

Home is where the heart is, and older Australians want to stay there.

But the reality they increasingly face is the question of ‘how’?

Our country is getting older, faster, and within the next 20 years the demographic aged 65 and older is projected to increase by more than 50 per cent to 6.6 million.

The way older Australians want to age is also transforming, with four in five of us wishing to remain at home.

It’s a desire illustrated in figures revealed in a recent Senate budget estimates hearing, with 68,109 people nationally on the waiting list for a Home Care Package at the end of May.

The funding allocation in the federal budget for 24,000 Home Care Packages was a step in the right direction, but industry experts continue to call for 40,000 or more.

While the budget measure will go some way towards alleviating current demand and reducing the waitlist, it is unlikely to meet future demand.

As a result, more Australians are considering private in-home care as an immediate solution to their needs. Private care requires an out-of-pocket expense but can be a cost-effective solution, particularly for short-term needs or even support in residential care.

For those working in the aged care sector it was gratifying to see the federal government’s Aged Care Taskforce spotlight this growing demand for in-home care in its final report, released earlier this year.

The report estimated there will be an extra 44,000 home care participants each year for the next 20 years. By 2042, it’s estimated the current number of Australians receiving in-home care will double to nearly two million, many of whom will require financial support.

It’s clear there is a lot of work to be done to ensure our sector can meet this rapidly rising demand.

Right now, many in-home care providers are concerned about how they can sustain their operations and their ability to source the workers they need.

Enkindle’s recently released Home Care Provider Outlook Report 2024 showed providers considered workforce shortages and financial viability to be the two greatest challenges for our industry in 2024. 

Given the challenges the aged care industry is experiencing in the face of ever-growing demand for in-home care, we had been expecting to see significantly more aged care funding, particularly for home care packages, in the budget.

However, we are hopeful there will be an uptick in funding for in-home support once the government outlines the next steps for the sector in response to the final report of the Aged Care Taskforce Final Report, which reviewed funding arrangements for the sector.

While significant reform takes time, it’s imperative both in-home care and residential care providers have a clear financial roadmap so they can evolve in response to growing, and changing, demands.

Although the federal budget failed to reveal the government’s hand on the taskforce recommendations, it did contain some positives for aged care.

It was encouraging to see the government commit to funding higher wages for aged care employees, which will help attract and keep workers in our sector.

We know recruitment and retention is crucial in ensuring high-quality care for the growing number of older Australians. So, too, is specialised training. 

In-home caregivers need to be equipped with the skills to deliver quality care that extends beyond the basics of domestic assistance and personal care.

They must be supported to deliver holistic support to help older Australians live happy, healthy and independent lives, including those living with age-related conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Encouragingly, the major reforms afoot are underpinned by an overarching desire to improve the provision of quality in-home and residential care, which is ultimately great for older Australians and the sector in general.

Kris Whitehead is CEO of Home Instead a provider of in-home care and home packages.

Kris Whitehead

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