Briefing paper

Medium- and long-term pressures on the system: the changing demographics and dynamics of aged care

Aged care quality and safety Older people Royal Commissions Aged care

Ageing affects every person throughout their lifespan at different rates and in different ways as every individual is unique. It is inescapable, normal and not necessarily an indication of frailty. Normal ageing slows functionality, but age-related physical, emotional and social changes can be anticipated and managed by understanding the ageing process, adopting a healthy approach to ageing throughout life, and adapting to specific changes. Care available from within the community can support adaptation. However, chronic conditions such as obesity, dementia, and arthritis can diminish functionality. Supportive environments and integrated care systems can help ensure that older people whose capacity has diminished live with dignity and grow personally.

Older people, like everyone, need many different types of assistance at different times and for differing periods. These can include:

  • income assistance—including funds for basic living, from public or private pension arrangements, and superannuation and investment concessions;
  • medical assistance—such as treatment or nursing care for an illness, injury or chronic condition;
  • rehabilitation and support—to help restore function and independence after an illness, surgery, accident or a disruption to living arrangements;
  • functional assistance—because they are no longer able to perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating, shopping, or keeping appointments;
  • psychological assistance—for loneliness, depression, anxiety, memory loss, confused thinking and other situations;
  • behavioural assistance—including help to manage aggression, wandering, disorientation, withdrawal, or compulsive behaviour;
  • help with social needs—arising from a lack of interaction with people, isolation from family or friends, or an inability to participate spiritual and cultural activities; and
  • housing-related assistance—for home maintenance, gardening, modification or relocation to enable the person to manage with a disability

Older people needing help rarely require one form. Also, their needs change over time. Some of the conditions associated with advanced age become progressively worse—for example, Alzheimer’s disease—while older people can benefit from short-term rehabilitation and support to improve or restore their independence when they have other conditions. However, the emphasis in treating older people with chronic conditions is often necessarily on caring, rather than curing.

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