Innovation in aged care: alternative options give older Australians autonomy and happiness

2 May 2016 - 6:23 PM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2016 - 11:24 AM

It is estimated that half of Australian men and two-thirds of women over the age of 65 will need formal aged care at some point in their lifetime.

By 2055, it is expected the number of people over the age of 70 will triple. 

With places limited, costs high, and facilities not always meeting the individual needs of older Australians, some interesting alternatives have been developed to give seniors more flexibility in their choice of aged care and living. 

As part of Insight's discussion on aged care this week, guests share some of their innovative approaches to the issue. 


Intergenerational Living

"It's a real god-send" says 85 year-old Rose, from Melbourne's outer suburbs. "I'm able to stay at home now that I've got Olympia, because she's great company and it's more security also." 

She's describing an arrangement with her much younger housemate, Olympia, put in place by community services organisation Care Connect and the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre

The organisation, based in Melbourne, has developed the Homeshare program to match older people living with a disability in their own homes with people willing to do around 10 hours of household work a week in exchange for almost free accommodation. 

Carers' contribution to keeping the house running might include some cooking, gardening, cleaning, assistance with transportation to appointments, or help on the computer. 

Rose and OIympia went through a careful matching process, involving interviews, initial meetings, and a 6 month live-in trial. 

They've now been together over 18 months, with Olympia primarily helping with cooking to alleviate the stress on Rose's arthritic limbs. 

She also has diabetes, and after her husband died a few years ago suffered a heart attack. 

"If I didn't have Olympia living with me, the family wanted to put me in a nursing home," says Rose. She's not wholly against the idea, but prefers being surrounded by her treasured possessions, memories, and the ability to continue socialising with her friends and family. 

The arrangement works well for Olympia too. 

"I didn't really want to live alone ... it's kind of difficult to live alone. So this was a great solution and we get along very well," she tells Insight's Jenny Brockie. 

Homeshare is a government-funded program but is only available at this stage to residents in Melbourne's north. To find out more, or to recommend yourself to be part of the program, head here

A similar form of intergenerational living is currently being trialled in an aged care home outside Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. 

With student rooms short in the capital and funding to aged care cut, Humanitas decided to address the shortages by offering free accommodation to students in exchange for 30 hours of socialising each month. 

Dateline visited them this week and found the experiment to be working famously, with tales of romance, games, gossip and laughter traded easily between generations. 


The 'Shedders'

"People my age and older want autonomy, to have purpose in their lives and relationships," says Judy Hollingworth, noting that much of the discussion during Insight's forum on the issue touched on those desires.

Instead, pooling together $250,000 per couple, she and husband Michael built a modern home on the NSW north coast with two other couples to live out their days in communal and private spaces. 


Michael describes the house as a "do-it-yourself nursing home", with the purpose being to allow the couples to age autonomously in a space they'd never have been able to afford alone. 

After a three year test run of living with their friends, they were ready to delve into construction and eventually the full-time share house. 

The house is financially divided, so each person owns one sixth of the estate, should anything happen. 

At this stage, though, the arrangement works well, with the couples looking out for one another as family. 

"I love the flexibility of it," says Jane Mussared, Chief Executive of the Council of the Aged Australia (SA). "I love the idea of people experimenting. I think that's what we need to do." 

To find out more about the Shedders, head here to their blog. 


Community home care

Cathy Pirecca's father, Guiseppe, has been living with her family - husband, two adult children - for close to 5 years. 

There was no question when Guiseppe's wife died that he would come live with his daughter. 

"Being the daughter, that's also my duty and I think it's part of the culture as well," she says. 

Lately, though, it's been tough to keep up with the level of care he requires after a recent diagnosis of Lewy Body Disease - a form of Alzheimer's. 

The Pireccas are hesitant to find him residential care just yet, believing it important to keep him among family for as long as possible. 

"It's nice to have that family around  you when we are home," says Cathy. "You can just see his face light up." 

In the interim, an organisation providing community services to the Italian community - Co.As.It - has been helping to keep Guiseppe cared for in his own home and culturally connected.  

The organisation allocates carers for a few hours a week to help elderly community members in daily life. Different levels of need are given more time with carers - Cathy's father has just been moved to a high bracket of care which will increase the amount of hours he spends with carers from four to around 12. 

The family do contribute a small fee each month for the home carers, but the service is mostly government-funded.

"They've been wonderful in the sense that I've been able to get the same two gentlemen to come and see Dad. So Dad's become very familiar with them," says Cathy. 

"When they come in you can just see his whole face lights up ... They shower him and then they basically just have enough time to take him for a walk, a quick walk, down to the shop [maybe] to get a bread roll for lunch." 

Further reading
Australia's first Indian aged care home to be built in Melbourne
Dutch aged care provider to build Indian retirement home after a Victorian aged provider refused a request for a vegetarian kitchen and prayer rooms.


Insight looks at how we can provide the kind of care and living arrangements that our older loved ones want on That Old Question | Catch up online now: