In the past, Australians were largely able to rely on family members to look after them as they grew older. But increasingly, the safety net of family is not available or can not be relied upon.

Lisa Kelly, CEO Carers ACT, told HelloCare that the ability of families to provide unpaid informal care for their older members is being constrained by distance, economic pressures, family breakdown, and carers having small children of their own to look after.

With older people less able to reply on their families for care, do we have adequate services to provide care for the coming generations of elderly?

“Older people face a future without family members being able to care for them”

Australia’s population is ageing. The number of age-related illnesses, such as dementia, are also on the rise – for example, 250 new cases of dementia are diagnosed every day.

More than 3.5 million Australians (roughly one in every seven people) are aged over 65 and more than half of these live with a disability.

Already 26.8% of older Australians live alone. And these numbers are only set to rise as the population ages.

Supply of aged care services not keeping up with growing demand

“Given our ageing population, higher household debt, the need to work longer before retirement, and smaller more geographically dispersed families, older people are increasingly facing a future without family members able to physically care for them in their old age,” Ms Kelly said.

“Whilst there are a range of support organisations and services available to assist older people in need, Government reports indicate that the supply of aged care services and facilities is not keeping up with demand,” she said.

“This supply/demand imbalance is expected to grow and will be of particular concern to the one in 20 older Australians who live in care accommodation, such as nursing homes and aged care hostels, and to the over one quarter (26.8%) who currently live alone.

“High housing costs, high costs of living, and wage shrinkage all impact on a family members’ ability to provide care. As the economic stress increases, the ability to care without experiencing financial distress becomes difficult.

“It is not that family members do not want to provide care, it is more that they are not able to because of the impact financially (or in other words the need to work and gain an income), or because they have young children and the demands of raising a family, or because they live hundreds of kms away,” Ms Kelly said.

Costs, technology mean some could miss out

“As we enter into one of the largest population groups ever to age, we will continue to encounter a shortage of informal care,” Ms Kelly said.

Even the carers she works with are often concerned that they are not able to provide informal care to their loved ones who live far away, she said.

Support services are increasingly coming at a cost.

“There are a range of support organisations and services available, however increasingly these come at a cost to the consumer,” Ms Kelly said.

“We are hearing about older people who are living in poverty and are unable to access services.”

Technology could also be a barrier to some accessing care services.

“We are also concerned about the move towards electronic service delivery or entry and the barrier to access this places on many older Australians who are not able or resourced to access in this way or who don’t have a family member who can assist.”

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