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People using aged care

Australia’s aged care system offers a variety of services to cater to people as they age. 

Last updated: 27 April 2021

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Contents 

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For a downloadable summary of the information in this topic, view the People using aged care factsheet.

Related information can be found on other GEN topic pages:

Aged care use in Australia

The Australian Government uses Aged Care Planning Regions (ACPRs) to plan the distribution and types of aged care services to be made available across Australia.

At 30 June 2020, a total of 335,889 people were using residential aged care (permanent or respite, 189,954), home care (142,436) or transition care (3,499) in Australia. In addition, during 2019–20 nearly 840,000 people were assisted under the Commonwealth Home Support Program (home support).   

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The aged care system offers a continuum of care under three main types of service:
  • Home support (Commonwealth Home Support Programme), which provides entry-level services focussed on supporting individuals to undertake tasks of daily living to enable them to be more independent at home and in the community.
  • Home care (Home Care Packages Program), which is a more structured, more comprehensive package of home-based support, provided over four levels.
  • Residential aged care, which provides support and accommodation for people who have been assessed as needing higher levels of care than can be provided in the home, and the option for 24-hour nursing care. Residential care is provided on either a permanent, or a temporary (respite) basis.
There are also several types of flexible care available that extend across the spectrum from home support to residential aged care:
  • Transition care, which provides short-term care to restore independent living after a hospital stay
  • Short-term restorative care, which expands on transition care to include anyone whose capacity to live independently is at risk
  • Multi-purpose services, which offer aged care alongside health services in Regional and remote areas
  • Innovative Care Programme, which includes a range of programs to support flexible ways of providing care to target population groups
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program, which provides culturally-appropriate aged care at home and in the community.
For more information on aged care services in Australia see the Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act, or visit the Department of Health website.
A map shows the number of people using age care across Australia by Aged Care Planning Region (ACPR). The ACPR with the highest number of people living in residential care was Southern Metro, Victoria.

You can learn more about ACPRs on the Department of Health website.

To find detailed information on the people using aged care in different ACPRs and Primary Health Networks (PHNs), please visit the My aged care region dedicated page on GEN.


Aged care use by age

A person’s access to government-subsidised aged care is determined by their assessed need, not their age. Although the majority of people using aged care services are aged 65 and over, younger people also access these services.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • People living in permanent residential aged care were older (58% of care recipients were aged 85 or older) and people accessing home support were younger (30% were aged 85 or older).
  • 7,784 people using aged care services (excluding people using home support, who are instead counted across the financial year) were under the age of 65, 4,860 of whom (62%) were living in permanent residential care.
  • The proportion of people using aged care services who were under the age of 65 was similar in permanent residential aged care (3%), home support (2%), respite residential care (2%) and home care (2%).
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A bar graph shows the number of people using aged care services grouped by care type and age group. There were differences in age profiles of people using residential aged care, home care and home support. People using permanent residential care were likely to be in older age groups, with the majority of people aged 85–94 years. People using home support were likely to be younger, with the majority of people aged 75–84 years.

Aged care use by sex

Men and women differ in their patterns of aged care use.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • Around 2 in 3 people (65%) using aged care services were women.
  • More women than men were using permanent residential aged care (67% women, 33% men), home care (66% women, 34% men) and home support (65% women, 35% men).
  • The smallest difference in aged care service usage between men and women was in respite residential care (59% women, 41% men).
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A bar graph shows the number of people using aged care services grouped by care type and sex. More women than men were using residential care, home care and home support. The greatest difference in sex of care recipients was in permanent residential care, where 67% of recipients were women and 33% were men.

Aged care use by age and sex

The age profiles of men and women using aged care services differ. Women make up a larger proportion of the oldest people, while men make up a larger proportion of the youngest people.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of women living in permanent residential care were aged 85 years and over, compared with 47% of men.
  • The age profiles of men and women using home care or home support were similar.
  • There were more men than women in younger age groups, despite more women using aged care services overall. For example, 4.3% of men living in permanent residential aged care were aged under 65 years, compared with 1.8% of women.
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A butterfly chart shows the number of people using aged care services grouped by care type, age group and sex. The greatest proportion of females using permanent residential aged care were aged 90–94, compared to the greatest proportion of males aged 85–49. There was a greater proportion of young female and male users of home support and home care than permanent and respite residential care.

Aged care use by age and sex over time

Over the last 10 years women have consistently used more aged care services than men. However, this has differed somewhat over time for different care types. For example, men now represent a larger proportion of people living in residential aged care than in the past, but the opposite trend is apparent for home care.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • The number of people using home care has tripled—from 47,684 people in 2010 to 142,436 people (an increase of 199%).
  • The number of people using permanent residential aged care increased from 162,578 people in 2010 to 183,989 people—an increase of 13%.
  • The number of people using transition care or respite residential aged care also increased more than 50% over this period.
Trends over the decade from 2010–20 indicate that:
  • The proportion of permanent residential aged care users who were women was smaller (70% compared with 66%), and the proportion who were men was larger (30% compared with 34%), than in 2010.
  • The increase in people using permanent residential aged care since 2010 was proportionately higher among older people (17% increase in people aged 85 years or older; 7% increase in people aged under 85 years).  
  • The difference in the number of men and women using home care increased from 18,242 more women than men in 2010 to 44,257 more women than men in 2020.
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A line graph shows a time series of the number of people using aged care services, grouped by care type, age group and sex. The increase in people using permanent residential aged care since 2010 was proportionately higher among older people (17 per cent increase in people aged 85 years or older; 7 per cent increase in people aged under 85 years).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians using aged care

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face multiple health and social disadvantages. As a consequence, they are more likely to develop serious medical conditions earlier in life, and have a lower life expectancy than their non-Indigenous counterparts. You can learn more about Indigenous Australians in aged care by viewing the Indigenous Australians Dashboard, or learn about the health and welfare of Indigenous Australians on the AIHW website.

Indigenous Australians are eligible to receive aged care services at an earlier age than non-Indigenous people, and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program provides culturally-appropriate care for Indigenous Australians in locations close to their communities.

 At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • Indigenous Australians represented 2.6% of people using the most frequently used mainstream aged care services (residential care, home care, home support, transition care).
  • 40% of Indigenous Australians using home support, 30% using home care, and 22% using permanent residential aged care were aged under 65.
  • 12% of Indigenous Australians using home support were aged under 55 years, compared to less than 1% of non-Indigenous people. This partly reflects the fact that eligibility for this program is extended to Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over.
  • 5.7% of Indigenous Australians living in permanent residential aged care were aged under 55 years, compared to less than 1% of non-Indigenous people.
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A butterfly chart shows the number of people using aged care services, grouped care type, age group and Indigenous status. Greater proportions of younger Indigenous Australians tended to use aged care services than non-Indigenous Australians, particularly in permanent residential care, home care and home support.

People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds using aged care

Many older Australians were born overseas, have a parent who was born overseas, or speak a variety of languages. These groups of people are referred to as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). CALD individuals may have one or several distinguishing features, including a country of birth outside of Australia, or have a preferred language other than English.

Many overseas-born Australians face barriers in accessing and engaging with services that support wellbeing, although CALD Australians are by nature heterogeneous, and situations and needs vary greatly.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • People from CALD backgrounds (spoke a language other than English and were born outside of Australia) represented 12% of all people using the most frequently used mainstream aged care services (residential care, home care, home support and transition care).
  • The majority of people using aged care services spoke English as their preferred language—91% in permanent residential aged care and 85% in both home support and home care.
  • Across all aged care services, between 18–28% of people were born in non-English speaking countries.
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Two horizontal bar graphs show the number of people using aged care services, grouped by care type, country of birth and preferred language. The majority of people in each care type were born in Australian and spoke English. Home care had the highest proportion of people born in non-English-speaking countries, 28 per cent, and the highest proportion of people who preferred to speak a language other than English, 15 per cent.

States and territories

The proportion of the target population that use aged care services differs between Australian states and territories, and this variability is more pronounced in residential aged care than home care.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • South Australia had the highest proportion of the target population using permanent residential aged care (4.7%), while the lowest proportion was in the Northern Territory (1.5%). In the Northern Territory, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program is a prominent part of aged care service provision.
  • The target population used home care services most in Victoria (3.7%) and least in the Northern Territory (2.0%).
  • South Australia had the highest proportion of the target population using home support (25%), while the lowest proportion was in Western Australia (14%).
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A bar graph shows the usage rate (proportion of the target population and number of people per 1,000 people in the target population) or aged care services, grouped by care type and state. South Australia had the highest proportion of the target population using permanent residential care and home support, while Victoria had the highest proportion of the target population using home care.

Remoteness

The target population for aged care services is all people aged 65 and over and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50–64 years. The proportion of people in this target population that use aged care services decreases as people live in increasingly remote areas. However, this is most obvious for high-care services (permanent residential care) and absent for basic support services (home support). This may be because people in remote areas need to move to access higher-level aged care services.

Additional care types, such as Multi-purpose services (MPS) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program, also cater to members of the target population, often in remote areas. For more information on flexible care programs, see the MPS factsheet and Indigenous Australians factsheet and dashboard.

At 30 June 2020 (or during the 2019–20 financial year for home support):

  • The usage rate (number of people using an aged care service per 1,000 in the target population) of permanent residential aged care was highest in metropolitan areas (MM 1) and large rural towns (MM 3). For example, people aged 85–89 in metropolitan areas had a useage rate of over 10 times that of people in very remote communities (11.1 compared to 1.0).
  • Home support had the opposite trend, where the usage rate was lower in metropolitan areas (MM 1) than in remote communities (MM 6). For example, people aged 80–84 in remote communities had a usage rate nearly 3 times that of people in metropolitan areas (114.6 compared to 41.3 in metropolitan areas).
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The Modified Monash Model (MMM) is one of several classifications for defining whether a location is a city, rural, remote or very remote. People living in more remote areas can find it harder to get medical or other help or support services. Understanding the MMM classification can inform planning decisions by enabling a better understanding of where current and future demand for services is most likely and how this relates to the supply of services and workforce across regions.
 
The model measures remoteness and population size on a scale of Modified Monash (MM) category MM 1 to MM 7. MM 1 is a metropolitan area, including Australia’s major cities, and MM 7 is a very remote community, such as Longreach.

From January 2020, Department of Health programs are transitioning to use the MMM classification. You can learn more about MMM on the  Department of Health's website.
 
A line graph shows the usage rate (proportion of the target population and number of people per 1,000 people in the target population) of aged care services, grouped by care type, remoteness and age group. The usage rate for permanent residential care was highest in metropolitan areas and large rural towns. The usage rate for home care was highest in large rural towns. The use rate for home support was highest in remote areas.

Explore people using aged care

Use the interactive table below to explore the number of people using aged care services by care type, age group, sex, Indigenous status, preferred language, country of birth and geography (Aged Care Planning Regions).

If you are interested in accessing a confidentialised data set that includes selected information about admissions into residential care, home care, and transition care in Australia by state and territory and Aged Care Planning Regions, please see the relevant Confidentialised Unit Record File available on GEN. 

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A table shows the number of people using aged care services by care type, age group, sex, indigenous status, preferred language, country of birth and geography (Aged Care Planning Regions).

COVID-19 and people using aged care

Australia has faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 illness can be more serious for people who have pre-existing health conditions, including older Australians.

People using aged care services were significantly impacted by COVID-19. This was particularly the case for people living in residential aged care, especially as the close proximity between residents increased the risk of virus transmission. COVID-19 illness had more potential for serious health outcomes in older people, including death. Approximately two-thirds of COVID-19-related deaths in Australia have occurred in people living in residential aged care facilities.

For further information related to older Australians and COVID-19, including access to advice and support resources, see the Australian Government’s My Aged Care website. For more information regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities, see the latest national snapshot.


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