Aged care research round-up

Rise in older people seeking homelessness support; older carers and work; over 65s the fastest growing age group; junk food linked to memory; older drivers wanted for study.

In this story:

  • Rise in older people seeking homelessness support
  • Older carers and work
  • Over 65s: fastest growing age group
  • Junk food linked to memory
  • Older drivers wanted for study


Rise in older people seeking homelessness support

Specialist homelessness services: 2012–13

The number of older people receiving assistance from specialist homelessness agencies has increased, according to new research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The Specialist homelessness services: 2012–13 report showed that about 244,000 Australians accessed specialist homelessness services in 2012–13, a rise of 3 per cent since 2011–12. However, the proportion of clients 55 years and over who sought support rose by 14 per cent in the same period. The AIHW acknowledged that they represented a small proportion of overall clients.

The highest number of older people were seen in Victoria (8,531 clients), followed by NSW (3,175) and Queensland (2,106). The Northern Territory had the highest rate of older clients (21 per 10,000), followed by Victoria (15 per 10,000) and the ACT (8 per 10,000), according to the AIHW report.

For older clients, the most common main reasons for seeking assistance reported were financial difficulties, domestic and family violence and housing crisis, although the report noted that there were different reasons underlying homelessness or risk among older men and women.

Over one-third of older clients reported their main source of income as Disability Support Pension and 27 per cent were receiving the Age Pension, while 16 per cent of older clients were receiving Newstart Allowance at the beginning of their first support period.

The majority of older clients were not in the labour force (69 per cent) and one-quarter were unemployed.

Older carers and work

A Juggling Act
A Juggling Act

Caring responsibilities limit the ability of many older people to work and older carers can face challenges both in the workplace and in finding work, according to new research from the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre.

Given that the majority of carers who reported their caring roles prevented them from working proposed flexible working arrangements as a possible solution, the effect of recent legislative changes in this area will be of much interest, said the study’s authors.

The study showed that nearly three in every 10 Australians aged 45 to 74 years were providing care. Of these, 17 per cent was caring for a child and just over 11 per cent for an adult. Over half were providing care for 20 or more hours per week. Nearly one in three carers had an illness, injury or disability themselves and nearly half were caring for someone with a long-term illness or disability.

Just over half the people who were caring for an adult and nearly two-thirds  of those caring for children were also in paid employment, either full-time or part-time. More than one in three who were not in work at all reported that caring prevented from them working.

The report found that while similar proportions of carers and non-carers reported some form of exclusion in the workplace or while looking for work, this was most likely among carers who had an illness, injury or disability. “Most commonly, carers reported insulting jokes or comments, being paid less than other workers in similar roles, and feeling they were being forced out,” it found.

The report detailed possible solutions, which included flexible work arrangements and greater availability of external care.

Over 65s: fastest growing age group

ABS demographics
ABS demographics

People aged 65 and over are Australia’s fastest growing age group, recently released figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show.

There is now a noticeable difference between the growth rate of the working age population – traditionally considered to be people aged 15 to 64 – and the older age groups, as more baby boomers turn 65, according to Bjorn Jarvis from the ABS.

The growth rate for the older ages was 3.7 per cent over the last year, compared to 1.4 per cent for the working age population and 1.7 per cent for children. The number of people aged 65 and over increased from 11.6 per cent of the population (or 2.1 million people) in 1993 to 14.4 per cent (or 3.3 million people) in 2013.

Tasmania recorded the largest percentage increase in the 65 and over age group, increasing from 12.2 per cent of its population in 1993 to 17.3 per in 2013.

The ABS has produced a video explaining the latest demography statistics. Watch it here.

Junk food linked to memory

Even a short-term diet of junk food can have a detrimental effect on the brain’s cognitive ability, according to new research.

Researchers from UNSW have shown that rats fed a diet high in fat and sugar had impaired memory after just a week. Interestingly, the results were similarly poor for the rats fed a healthy diet and given access to sugar water to drink.

The work was published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

The cognitive impairment related to place recognition, with the animals showing poorer ability to notice when an object had been shifted to a new location. These animals also had inflammation of the hippocampal region of the brain, which is associated with spatial memory.

Professor Margaret Morris from UNSW Medicine said that what was surprising about the research was the speed with which the deterioration of the cognition occurred. She said preliminary data also suggested that the damage was not reversed when the rats were switched back to a healthy diet.

“We suspect that these findings may be relevant to people,” said Professor Morris. “While nutrition affects the brain at every age, it is critical as we get older and may be important in preventing cognitive decline. An elderly person with poor diet may be more likely to have problems. ”

Older drivers wanted for study 

Heidy Hassan
Heidy Hassan

How do seniors know whether they are driving safely or not? PhD student Heidy Hassan said the answer to this question would help keep older drivers safely mobile for longer.

The number of drivers aged 65 and over is expected to double on Australian roads in the next 30 years or so. Previous studies have shown that older drivers are over represented in fatal and life-threatening crashes.

It has been suggested that older adults’ insight into their own limitations is crucial for safe driving. However, there has been little exploration of the impact of feedback on older drivers’ self-awareness and subsequent self-regulatory behaviours.

Ms Hassan, from QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q), said as drivers aged, their driving ability was likely to change as a result of factors such as reduced eyesight and slower reflexes.

“One of the main strategies we rely on to keep older drivers driving safely is to encourage self-regulation of driving,” she said. “What we know is that older adults who lack insight into the impact of age-related declines on their driving may be overestimating their driving performance. This in turn may prevent them from accurately self-monitoring and self-regulating their driving behaviours.”

As part of her study, Ms Hassan is calling for males and females aged 70 years or more who are current or former drivers to attend focus groups and talk about their driving experiences. The focus groups will be held in Brisbane or on the Sunshine Coast.

Ms Hassan said the results of her research could lead to improved road user safety and reduce the crash risk of older drivers.

To take part in the study contact Ms Hassan on 0416779400 or email

Tags: abs, ageing-population, aihw, carers, healthy diet, homelessness, memory-loss, national-seniors, older-drivers, pension, productive-ageing-centre, qut, unsw, workforce,

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