Whether it be more social interactions or more aged care funding, there are things that the government and society can do to improve the quality of life of older Australians.

This is what the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, spoke about at the National Press Club in Canberra.

“In respect of our ageing society, not only should we always acknowledge and value our elders for the contribution they have made, we must create opportunities for them to continue giving to, and sharing in, our communities,” said Minister Wyatt

“How we consider and care for our elders is the ultimate reflection on ourselves.”

“Our elders should hold a special place in our society – they are not to be sent away or shunned, but remain fundamental to family groups and communities, as wisdom-givers.”

Loneliness and Social Isolation

The elderly are particularly susceptible to loneliness and social isolation for a number of reasons – and this is often amplified when a person lives in aged care.

“I have heard that up to 40 per cent of people in residential aged care have no visitors 365 days of the year.”

“It saddens me immensely …. especially those with varying degrees of dementia, receive no visitors.”

“For those of you listening, I want you to cast your mind to the last time you told your mother, father, husband, wife or partner that you still love them and if you can hug them.”

“For me, one of the most disturbing trends I see in Australian ageing is loneliness.”

“We must all ask ourselves: ‘Do I want to be abandoned in my later years? Is this what my elders deserve? Is this how I want to live out my days?’”

We must champion inclusion, and reach out to senior Australians. We must offer our hearts and our hands in love and respect.

“When I talk to people in Aged Care, I find so many who crave simple touch, a hug, the warmth of palms clasped together, or a soothing hand on their shoulder.”

“Coming together, looking after the lonely – these are surely hallmarks of the Australia we want, but this is a challenge for our society, not something that governments alone can solve.”

Elder Abuse

All Australians have inherent rights, built on a foundation of dignity which should not in any way diminish with age.

However, elder abuse appears to be all to frequent in aged care, and Minister Wyatt acknowledges that something needs to be done about it.

“Elder abuse is unacceptable, and will only be stamped out when it is confronted and corrected, and the Turnbull Government is now leading a national agenda to address this.”

“The more lifestyle options and social connections people have, the less likely they are to suffer from abuse.”

“We shouldn’t allow any senior Australian to be subjected to some of the events that have happened.”

“Maggots in the mouth when you are admitted to a Canberra Hospital is not appropriate. Wounds that should have been dealt with when they were small ulcers should not be allowed to develop to a large pressure wound.”

“And some of the other events that occur I will continue to work with my agency and with all of the aged care providers to make sure that we collectively commit to providing a very safe home for senior Australians.”

“Because I want to be able to go into aged care when I get to that point knowing that I’m going to get care that will look after me until the day I pass away. And that is what I want, but I want quality care in that total mix.”

Minster Wyatt also said that the advocacy groups had been raising this issue with him for some time.

elderly patient leaves hospital

Aged Care Funding

Around 1.3 million people access government-funded aged care in 2015-16. These included:

  • an estimated 925,000 receiving home supports
  • nearly 90,000 people accessed home care packages,
  • almost 235,000 people lived in residential care homes
  • and under 25,000 used other targeted and specialist programs.

The minister stated that the Government will spend more than $330 billion over the next five years for senior Australians.

There is a high demand for home support, so the government have allocated $5.5 billion to extend the Commonwealth Home Support Program until 2020, to provide lower-level services.

“This investment is part of our record $100 billion aged care commitment over the next five years, an annual growth rate of 6 per cent.”

“To help guarantee supply of residential care, this year I have announced the rollout of almost 10,000 new places, valued at $649 million in recurrent funding.”

“Additionally, an extra $64 million in capital grants will fund re-development or construction of new care projects, with $34.7 million for 475 new short-term restorative care places.”

“A particular focus across these new allocations is ensuring rural, regional and remote residents have aged care support.”

Supporting People Living with Dementia

Dementia is the second most common cause of death in Australia, and there is no cure.

Without a medical intervention, it’s predicted the number of people with the condition will rise to more than 900,000 by 2050.

With these kinds of growing numbers, there is a need to improve the dementia care that is offered within aged care

“I have convened a series of dementia forums, and we are currently investing $200 million in dementia research,” said Minister Wyatt.

“Already, over half the permanent residents in Government-funded aged care facilities have some form of dementia.”

“It’s a top priority for ageing Australia, and I applaud the dedicated staff and the innovation of many providers on this front.”

The Aged Care Workforce

The aged care sector employs around 366,000 people, approximately 3 per cent of Australia’s total workforce.

About two thirds of these are in residential care, and overall staff numbers are forecast to almost triple in the next 40 years.

The Productivity Commission estimates almost 1 million people will be needed to work in aged care by 2050.

“So this is also about jobs of the future – from horticulture and catering, to nursing, caring and senior management.”

“Just yesterday the ABS released its latest workforce data that highlights aged care as one the nation’s fastest growing job markets.”

There has been a stigma with working in aged care – a career that some people ignorantly feel has little worth or value.

“It’s time to realise it is a career of choice, and a profession for life,” says Minister Wyatt.  

At the Press Club, Minister Wyatt announced that a taskforce is currently being formed, led by Professor John Pollaers and backed with a $2 million budget, to consult widely and create a workforce strategy to support our aged care future.

“While getting the workforce right is one of the pillars of quality care, we are facing a broader issue of how much the community cares for individuals, as well.”

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