Funding changes from February 2017 will offer Australians greater choice and control over the care they receive as they get older. This is a fantastic opportunity. Australians are living longer, healthier lives and need a system that responds to their changing needs and empowers each individual to receive the services that are right for them.

But will people make the most of this power to plan and pick care? At the moment I’m not sure. When I chat to friends, patients and colleagues it seems that although everyone is happy to think about retirement and pensions, to make wills and even consider the question of cremation or burial– they don’t or won’t consider their future care needs.

What does the evidence tell us?

The evidence backs up what I’ve observed. Research published in the BMJ found that elderly people were happy to plan for death but not for chronic illness or care. They described a “one day at a time” or “what will be, will be” approach to life. In the study, the people interviewed were resistant to planning in advance for a hypothetical future involving illness or infirmity.
But it’s vital to think about care early so that we can spend our twilight years in the way we want. The truth is that Australian lifestyles are changing and smaller family size means that there’s not as much informal care as there used to be. There is also evidence that younger people just don’t feel the same obligation to care for elderly relatives as in previous generations. This, together with an aging population, means there’s an ever increasing need for formal care.

People actually do have strong opinions about the sort of care they’d prefer. But no one wants to think about a future in which they are unable to look after themselves. In 2003, McCallum found that almost 60% of Australians aged 70 years or over would prefer to receive formal care in their own home, compared to 28% who would prefer to receive residential care. The remainder would prefer to receive care from family. So how can they achieve their goal?
The answer is to plan in advance. As professionals working in the field, we can help encourage people in the community to think about their futures. Just like a pension or a will, it’s never too soon to think about planning, saving for and financing future care.

Often people leave it too late to communicate their wishes to their adult children. We need to think about the way we want to live, how we can stay active, maintain our health and wellbeing and what sort of help and support we would prefer if we are unable to cope alone. Researching the options, writing an advance care plan and talking honestly with family can help ensure these goals are met.

Breaking down the stereotypes of aging

We don’t have to shrivel away. The evidence suggests that good nutrition and fitness can prevent weakness, immobility and decline as we get older. I think the perception of what we do, how we feel, even how we dress, as we age has changed. Many older people may be chronologically eighty but still feel fifty inside. I’m no different. I know that as I get older, in my head I’m still twenty something. Looking at the baby boomers today, I can see that they’re the same. Instead of blue rinses and tea dances, it’s barbeques on the beach. They’re breaking the stereotypes of aging.

If you’re not sure, then check out social media sensation Baddie Winkle on Instagram. That’s how I hope to grow old. She is the total embodiment of active aging, as she says why twerk when you can hoola hoop? It reminded me of Jenny Joseph’s wonderful poem,

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter”

As the baby boomer generation start to enter aged care, they may bring with them more money, greater demands and higher expectations. By planning financially, practically and mentally it will be easier to meet these expectations and support them to make the very most of the rest of their lives.

What are your thoughts about the future of aged care as the next generation of seniors start to access aged care services?

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