Frequent visitors to residential aged care are more positive about the quality of facilities and care than non-visitors but almost all Australians agree that residents are often lonely.

That’s according to research conducted for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety between July 2019 and January 2020 to be published on Monday 13 July.

The research asked Australians for their views on older age and aged care through a national survey of over 10,000 adults by Roy Morgan and a qualitative study by Ipsos involving 35 focus groups and 30 in-depth interviews.

Overall, the community’s perceptions about residents’ welfare were very negative, according to Research Paper 4 – Ageing and Aged Care Survey and Research, which was prepared by Roy Morgan Research Institute senior research director Gerry Bardsley.

“The most standout thing of all was the perception of loneliness. Almost nine in 10 people are saying they see residents  as being lonely there,” Mr Bardsley told Australian Ageing Agenda.  

Elsewhere perceptions are split in terms of the quality of life versus the delivery of services, he said.

Most people agree that residential aged care accommodation is comfortable and well-maintained (73 per cent) and that people are safe (65 per cent) and have timely access to healthcare (66 per cent).

But this drops away when looking at other quality measures, Mr Bardsley said.

“There’s a pretty strong perception that food quality is not very good, people aren’t particularly happy and they don’t have much control over their lives.”

Source: Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality & Safety Research Paper 4

Less than half of people think residents get good quality food (35 per cent), are happy (23 per cent) or have control over their lives (22 per cent).

However, around half of people think residents receive the help they need (54 per cent), are respected (51 per cent) and have enough activities to keep them entertained (47 per cent).

Views vary according to exposure

Perceptions about residential aged care facilities were similar between people of different ages. But the results show some variation depending on a person’s exposure to residential aged care.

Around 84 per cent of adults participating in the survey had visited a residential aged care facility at some time in their lives.

“People who have visited someone reasonably regularly have the same pattern of attitudes but more positive overall. Even in terms of how comfortable things are, if they are a regular they still have stronger perceptions than those who have never been there,” Mr Bardsley said.

“But this perception of loneliness is actually more heightened the more frequently you attend, ” he said.

Source: Royal Commission into Safety & Quality Research Paper 4

The research shows 96 per cent of people who have visited someone weekly say residents are often lonely compared to 85 per cent for those who have never been.

“Irrespective of the exposure that’s an attitude you can’t dismiss,” Mr Bardsley said.

Only a quarter of seniors prefer residential care

Elsewhere the research found that people of all ages have a strong preference to remain living in their own home should they ever need care while 25 per cent of older people would prefer to live in a facility under the same circumstances.

People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender people, homeless or have experienced prejudice and other trauma from institutions are particularly worried about living in an aged care facility.

As are young people with disabilities. Young people currently living in residential aged care facilities are highly critical of the care they get, this and other research shows.

Royal commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs

Royal commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs said the research confirmed Australia’s aged care system needed major reform to align with community expectations.

“Australians want the Government and community to assist older people to live well in their own homes for as long as possible. The Royal Commission has been investigating how to achieve that.”

The research also shows that few people know much about the aged care system. For example:

  • 9 per cent of people know about My Aged Care
  • 4 per cent of people know about the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
  • most people have little idea of how much money the Government spends on aged care each year.

The royal commission said the Australian community’s lack of awareness about the aged care system helped to explain why Governments have neglected to fix major, obvious problems.

It highlighted that the recommendations in many of the 20 major Government aged care inquiries over the past two decades had been ignored.

Other findings

  • almost everyone values older people and wants them to be properly looked after when they need support or care
  • people of all ages have a strong preference to remain living in their own home should they ever need support or care.
  • many people want to downsize or move closer to family when they are older
  • people tend to prefer to receive support to continue living independently, such as help with shopping, cooking, cleaning, and attending medical appointments, from their family and friends
  • paid help from aged care service providers tends to be preferred by people when they need higher-level assistance, such as help dressing, eating, going to the bathroom and nursing care.

Access Research Paper 4 – Ageing and Aged Care Survey and Research (Roy Morgan) Paper 5 – They look after you, you look after them: Community attitudes to ageing and aged care (IPSOS) here.

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