A reflection on what matters most in the present has influenced expectations for the future.
Slightly more than half of respondents in an online study commissioned by Australian Seniors, said they took stock of their life circumstances during Covid-19 and its lockdowns.
As many as one in three retirees surveyed in the Australian Seniors Quality of Life Report admit their priorities for a quality life in retirement has been reshaped as a result of the pandemic, particularly regarding family and health.
And the main worry for seniors thinking about future living arrangements is being able to remain living independently (94 per cent) for as long as possible in a property that is easy to maintain (81 per cent).
Macquarie University’s Centre for Ageing, Cognition and Wellbeing deputy director Dr Carly Johnco, says older Australians have always shown a preference for staying in their home as they age, mainly due to having mixed feelings about receiving support.
They feel more comfortable receiving care from people they know.
“The pandemic has highlighted some of the challenges associated with aged care facilities, such as reduced access to family members during end-of-life care and reinforcing people’s preferences to keep living independently at home when possible,” Dr Johnco says.
Reconnecting with values of family, community and living independently over the past few years has manifested in a strong preference for home care among the vast majority (82 per cent) of older Australians, while the pandemic, conversely, has tainted perceptions of aged care facilities for nearly half.
Only 8 per cent of older Australians surveyed described the quality of aged care as good or excellent.
Retirees Grace and Jeremy, both in their 70s, vary considerably in their attitude to home care and how to avoid the road to an aged care home.
When Grace broke her foot five years ago, she was income tested for a government-funded home care package.
Assistance didn’t come through until after her recovery, but she decided to keep the package anyway as she concedes she has other long-standing health conditions. For one hour of domestic help a week her co-contribution is less than $15.
“Not much else is available that is useful,” Grace says. “My lovely cleaner is not allowed to do things that require her to go on a step ladder, however, I’m grateful for the vacuum cleaning and mopping that she does. I told her not to waste time dusting as I can do that myself.”
Jeremy blames the media for his “appalling” perception of aged care facilities and his determination to stay out of one.
“I’m sure there are some caring organisations around but you never hear of those,” he says. “You see cases where people are being dragged out of their wards because a case of COVID has gone through. Bad news sells and that’s all we’ve heard in the past couple of years.”
Asked when he would have a conversation about planning for his health or aged care needs, he says: “On death’s door, I suppose, just before the ambulance comes to take me away. I don’t plan on lingering.”
He says he’s not interested in looking into home care packages now because both he and his wife are well and healthy.
“I exercise regularly. I don’t have any illnesses. I’ve beaten cancer twice and heart issues. I’m a survivor.”
His heartfelt advice to the younger generation is: “Don’t get old.”
While the popularity of home care has risen steadily in recent years, the pandemic brought to life some of its greatest advantages, including living in a familiar location near family (78 per cent), or within an established community.
The finding dovetails with the desire of most (86 per cent) older Australians to remain in home care for as long as possible, with a quarter considering ways to extend their ability to remain in home care.
On the flip side, most senior Australians surveyed admit they have very little awareness about how home care packages work or how much they cost (74 per cent) and feel they would need more support to organise home care for either themselves or a loved one (67 per cent).
A third are deterred by dealing with long waiting lists and finding a suitable carer to trust.
Although most (82 per cent) of the 5000 Australians aged 50 and over surveyed agree that it’s important to have conversations around aged care needs with their family, nearly half are far less forthcoming about conversations around retirement and ageing.
“Planning for retirement and old age can confront us with thoughts about a range of negative scenarios, including how we might need to change our lifestyle in the case of physical health problems, housing, finances and social relationships,” Dr Johnco says.
“It’s unsurprising that many Australians have delayed their retirement planning or have avoided having conversations about retirement planning with loved ones altogether.”
But, she points out, avoiding retirement planning doesn’t make it easier in the long run and can result in poorer outcomes when the appropriate plans have not been put in place.
Dr Johnco suggests that families break down a conversation about retirement or future care plans into smaller steps and have a close friend or family member on hand for support.
While possible health care needs (65 per cent) have always been somewhat of a staple priority for older Australians when determining retirement plans, it’s evident that recent events have made financial stability and mental wellbeing a focus, along with maintaining a sense of purpose.
Despite the importance of money in supporting retirement dreams, nearly two in three of survey respondents didn’t have financial plans in place or only vague ones, and only one in seven had documented or professional plans.
Senior financial adviser at Lifepath Financial Planning Brad Monk, says running out of money is invariably the greatest fear of prospective retirees who come to him.
“The worst thing to do is to spend less when you’re at your best health,” he says.
“It’s not about money when you see a financial planner, it’s maintaining longevity so you can fulfil those dreams and have an annual review to ensure you’re on track to spending the money you want to spend and achieving your goals at the end.”
Brad says you’re young while you still have good health, but you can age quickly if your health deteriorates.
“Do a call to action before it’s reactional,” he says.
“If you don’t have any money left there will always be a place in residential aged care for every Australian.
“It might not be the facility of your choice, or the room that you would like, but you’ll get the care that you require.”
The outlook of seniors from the research is guardedly more optimistic than pessimistic about the year ahead, and for the most part, realistic.
However, nearly three in five are minimally or not confident at all that life will largely return to “normal” this year.
To read the full report visit www.seniors.com.au/news-insights/australian-seniors-series-quality-of-life-report
Getting care in your home
Home care is suitable for those who do not need residential care and who can go about their daily life with some help from visiting aged care and nursing services.
At-home recipients may be asked to contribute to the cost of their care through an income tested care fee on top of the current basic fee that all care recipients are asked to pay.
There are four levels of care that will determine your eligibility for these services. These can be identified via the government website.