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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: 29 April 2022

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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 fact sheet.

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.

On 30 June 2021, more than one-third of a million people (371,000) were using residential aged care (permanent or respite, approximately 191,000), home care (approximately 176,000) or transition care (approximately 3,700) in Australia. In addition, during 2020–21 over 825,000 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 aged 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, chiefly due to challenges associated with accessing age-appropriate accommodation and supports in the community. The Australian Government has committed to no people under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025, except in exceptional circumstances. For more information on younger people in residential aged care, see the Younger people in residential aged care dashboard.

At 30 June 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):

  • People living in permanent residential aged care were older (59% of care recipients were aged 85 or older) and people accessing home support were younger (30% were aged 85 or older).
  • 6,810 people using aged care services (excluding people using home support, who are instead counted across the financial year) were under the age of 65, of whom 3,900 (57%) 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 (2.1%), home support (2.1%), respite residential care (1.1%) and home care (1.6%).
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A column 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 greatest proportion of people aged 85–94 years (47%). People using home support were likely to be younger, with the greatest proportion of people aged 75–84 years (43%).

Aged care use by sex

Men and women differ in their patterns of aged care use. This is partly driven by the fact that women’s life expectancy exceeds men’s, so there are more women at older ages needing care than men.

At 30 June 2021 (or during the 2020–21 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 (66% women, 34% 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 column 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 66% of recipients were women and 34% 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 using aged care, in part because women’s life expectancy exceeds men’s, resulting in more women at older ages needing care. Conversely, men make up a larger proportion of the youngest people using aged care.

At 30 June 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of women living in permanent residential care were aged 85 years and over, compared with 48% of men.
  • The age profiles of men and women using home care or home support were similar between the sexes.
  • There were more men than women in residential care in younger age groups, despite more women using aged care services, overall. For example, 3.3% of men living in permanent residential aged care were aged under 65 years, compared with 1.5% 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 85–89. 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 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):

  • The number of people using home care has increased more than threefold—from approximately 51,000 people in 2011 to approximately 176,000 people (an increase of 245%).
  • The number of people using permanent residential aged care increased from  approximately 165,000 people in 2011 to approximately 184,000 people—an increase of 11%.
  • The number of people using transition care or respite residential aged care also increased by 58% over this period.
Trends over the period from 2011–21 indicate that:
  • Proportionately more men have entered residential aged care over time (men made up 30% of residents in 2011, compared to 34% in 2021).The increase in people using permanent residential aged care since 2011 was proportionately higher among older people (15% increase in people aged 85 years or older; 6.8% increase in people aged under 85 years).  
  • The proportion of men using home care has increased over time, with men making up 31% of home care users in 2011, and 35% of home care users in 2021.
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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 2011 was proportionately higher among older people (15 per cent increase in people aged 85 years or older; 6.8 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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dashboard, or learn about the health and welfare of Indigenous Australians on the AIHW website.

Delivering culturally appropriate aged care can improve access to, and the quality of, aged care for Indigenous Australians. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program provides culturally appropriate care for Indigenous Australians in certain locations, mostly in rural and remote areas, that are close to their communities.

In recognition of poorer health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, aged care services are offered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from age 50. In practice, Indigenous Australians may face barriers to accessing and using aged care services for complex, inter-related reasons, including remoteness, language barriers, and the effects of racism and continued socioeconomic disadvantage.
 
At 30 June 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):

  • Indigenous Australians represented 2.7% of people using the most frequently used mainstream aged care services (residential care, home care, home support, transition care) where Indigenous status was known.
  • 41% of Indigenous Australians using home support, 28% using home care, and 20% using permanent residential aged care were aged under 65. 

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A butterfly chart shows the number of people using aged care services, grouped care type, age group and Indigenous status. Indigenous Australians using aged care services tended to be younger 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 have a preferred language other than English. These groups of people can be referred to as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD).

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

At 30 June 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):

  • Across all mainstream aged care services, 33% of people were born overseas. Of those, 66% were born in non-English-speaking countries, and 34% were born in other English-speaking countries.
  • Sizeable proportions of people using aged care had a preferred language other than English—9% in permanent residential aged care, 17% in home care and 10% in home support.
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Two 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 Australia and spoke English. Home care had the highest proportion of people born in non-English-speaking countries (30%) and the highest proportion of people who preferred to speak a language other than English (17%).

States and territories

The proportion of older Australians 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 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):

  • South Australia had the highest proportion of the population using permanent residential aged care (6.6%), while the lowest proportion was in the Northern Territory (4.0%). In the Northern Territory, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program is a prominent part of aged care service provision.
  • Home care services were used most in Victoria (6.6%) and least in Western Australia (4.9%).
  • The Northern Territory had the highest proportion of the population using home support (37%), while the lowest proportion was in Western Australia (21%).
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A column graph shows the number of people using aged care services per 1,000 people in the target population (all people aged 70 and over), grouped by care type and state. South Australia had the highest number of people per 1,000 of the target population using permanent residential care, while Victoria had the highest proportion of the target population using home care.

Remoteness

In general, the proportion of the population that uses aged care services varies within remoteness regions and depending on types of 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 population, often in remote areas. For more information on flexible care programs, see the MPS fact sheet and Indigenous Australians fact sheet and dashboard.

At 30 June 2021 (or during the 2020–21 financial year for home support):

  • Usage was similar across remoteness areas in younger age groups, but there were noticeable differences in usage depending on remoteness in those aged over 85. This may be due to less availability of services in remote regions and the need for people to move to less remote areas to access higher-level aged care services as they age.
  • The usage (number of people using an aged care service per 1,000 in the target population) of permanent residential aged care was highest in medium rural towns (MM 4), large rural towns (MM 3), metropolitan areas (MM 1) and regional centres (MM 2), in descending order. For example, the proportion of the population aged over 85 using permanent residential aged care in these remoteness areas was approximately 4 times that of people in very remote communities.
  • Home support had a different trend, with less variation between remoteness areas within age groups. Usage was lowest in metropolitan areas (MM 1) and highest in remote areas (MM 6) across all age groups.​
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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. 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 number of people using aged care services per 1,000 people in the target population (all people aged 70 and over) using aged care services, grouped by care type, remoteness and age group. The number of people per 1,000 target population using permanent residential care was lowest in remote areas. The number of people per 1,000 people for home care was highest in large rural towns. The number of people per 1,000 people 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 seriously 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 one-third 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 weekly report.


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