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October 20, 2021

Baby Boomers to change the face of aged care for ever

Baby Boomers are set to revolutionise aged care by banging down the doors of change, according to the annual research we (RSL LifeCare) have undertaken for the second year in a row.

As students, Baby Boomers were the original protest generation of the anti-Vietnam War era of the 1960s. Now as they enter retirement, aged 56 to 74, they are rejecting traditional forms of communal aged care living, declaring they want to live on their own. 

According to the 2nd annual RSL LifeCare Baby Boomer Survey, if Boomers must enter communal care, they are demanding to be well fed, well supported, and well-travelled. High quality food, wellness support and excursions are the three most important services to them. 

RSL LifeCare CEO Graham Millett said Baby Boomers are redefining what ageing looks like, with a greater focus on personal and financial independence, health, and wellbeing. 

“As Baby Boomers age, do they intend to do so gracefully, adhering to customs and activities of previous generations, or will they demand a new way,”
– RSL LifeCare CEO Graham Millett

“Our research shows a remarkable 40% of Baby Boomers are still working, an extraordinary 61% expect to fund their own retirement and a mere 7% are currently drawing on any formal aged care support, making them a resilient and independent generation, consistent with their rebellious youth. 

“Remarkably, they are also more optimistic and in better health than their children.” 

A surprising 91% of Baby Boomers believe their overall wellbeing is good, very good or excellent, while 84% rate their physical health on the same scale and an overwhelming 89% believe they’re in good mental health.  

In comparison, almost a quarter of their Millennial children live with a mental disorder, including anxiety, affective disorder such as depression or bipolar, or substance use disorders1. 

Australia has 5.2 million Baby Boomers2, or 24% of the country’s population3. Their living tastes are likely to have profound impacts on the $30 billion a year aged care industry after two years of revelations before the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety & Quality. 

Key findings: 

  • COVID-19 – Almost a quarter of Baby Boomers say COVID-19 has led them to feel more negatively towards residential aged care services, and 14% now feel more positive towards occasional home visits. Additionally, COVID lockdowns mean that 14% more Baby Boomers now want to live independently in their own homes and receive occasional home visits while 11% would do the same with full-time visits. 
  • FUNDING – Almost two-thirds (63%) of Baby Boomers don’t know how much aged care will cost them.  An extraordinary three in five Baby Boomers expect to fund their own retirement from their superannuation although younger Baby Boomers are more likely to do so than older ones, given compulsory superannuation was only introduced in 1993. 
  • CARE NEEDS – When care is needed, more than three quarters (78%) of Baby Boomers want to stay in their own homes with occasional nursing visits.  

Only 3% want to enter communal residential aged care in its current format. This number has tripled in the last year. They will only move into formal care when their physical or mental needs force them to do so, or when they become a burden on their families. This is a significant shift from the World War II generation, where communal retirement villages were popular, before they moved into higher levels of nursing care. Independence is key. The Me Generation does not mean the Us Generation. 

  • SERVICES – When it comes to aged care services, Baby Boomers want to be well fed, well supported, and well-travelled. High quality food, wellness support and excursions are the three most important service provisions when considering which aged care home to live in. 

State vs state comparison 

  • DEMOGRAPHICS – Canberra is Australia’s Baby Boomers retirement capital, with 76% already retired, compared to a low of 55% in NSW – where almost one in two Baby Boomers are still working. This may have something to do with the high rates of public service employment and the relatively generous government superannuation schemes in place, that fund retirements. Canberrans and Queenslanders are most likely to use the services of an aged care provider at 12% and 11% of Baby Boomers respectively, compared to less than half the same proportion in Tasmania and Victoria at 5%. This suggests the further south one lives in Australia; the more likely Baby Boomers are to live on their own independently without any external assistance. 
  • CARING RESPONSIBILITIES – Western Australians lead the country when it comes to Baby Boomers caring for others, with one in four Crow Eaters falling into this category. This compares to only 14% of those in Tasmania.
  • WELLBEING – Western Australians are the most optimistic and happy state in the country, with 98% believing their overall wellbeing is good, very good or excellent. This falls to as low as 88% in South Australia and the ACT. Why are Western Australian Baby Boomers so happy? Does caring for others improve our own health? 
  • PHYSICAL HEALTH – Australia is a nation divided. Almost one in five Queenslanders (19%) and South Australians (18%) regard their physical health as poor, compared to only one in eight Canberrans (12%) and Victorians (13%). 
  • COVID – The mental impact of COVID is clear in that the two states – Victoria and NSW – that experienced the most shutdowns in aged care facilities also have the greatest levels of mental health problems. 16% of Victorian Baby Boomers and 13% of those in NSW described their mental health as ‘poor’ compared to 0% in ACT, 3% in Western Australia and 5% in Tasmania.” 
  • PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – Northern Territory (33%) and the ACT (29%) are the cycling centres of Australia. Ironically, South Australia which is the home for the Australian Institute of Sport’s elite program, has the lowest cycling rates for any Baby Boomers in the country at only 8%.  
  • UNDERSTANDING AGED CARE COSTS – The most vulnerable states are Tasmania where 71% have little or no knowledge, followed by Western Australia 67%. One in three Western Australians and more than one in four Tasmanians have ‘no knowledge’ of the costs of aged care, while Canberrans lead the country in their understanding.  
  • LIVING PREFERENCE – Northern Territorians, Western Australians and South Australians are most likely to want to remain in their family home until they die, while Canberrans are most likely to move into communal aged care early. 

Mr Millett said that while it was important to nurture the need for independence as Baby Boomers age, this needed to be balanced with access to high-quality care when it is needed. 

“Our research shows when care is needed, more than three quarters (78%) of Baby Boomers want to stay in their own homes with occasional nursing visits, while only 3% want to enter communal aged care in its current format. This number has tripled in the last year,” he said. 

“COVID has likely further validated people’s attitudes towards aged care services.  Today, almost a quarter of Baby Boomers feel more negatively towards residential aged care than they did before the pandemic hit, while 14% feel more positive towards occasional home visits.  

“This reflects the rolling lockdowns of communal aged care facilities that have prevented family visits, along with communal outbreaks (particularly in Victoria) which have seen hundreds of Australians die in formal aged care facilities after catching COVID.” 

These research findings are consistent with the broader sector movement which experienced a significant reduction in admissions between April and September 2020. In 2020 there were 5,300 fewer people admitted to permanent residential aged care compared to 2019 and 11,100 few people admitted respiting residential aged care4. 

Australia’s ageing population means the country will need to make permanent changes to the way it cares for its elderly. 

More than 3.8 million Australians, or 15% of the total population, are currently over the age of 655. By 2057, that will rise to 8.8 million, or 22% of the population, and by 2097 it will reach 12.8 million people, or one in four Australians6 

The RSL LifeCare research found 63% of Baby Boomers are not sure or have no knowledge of aged care costs. This poses enormous challenges for the community if Baby Boomers are ill-equipped, or ignorant, of the true costs involved. 

Baby Boomers generally have a poor regard for formalised aged care options in Australia, but those attitudes are slowing improving.  

Sixteen per cent believe aged care is very good or excellent, up from 10% in 2020, while 39% say it’s less than satisfactory or poor, down from 48% in 2020. 

This means aged care providers are beginning to turn around previously poor perceptions of their sector. The Federal Government’s record $17.7 billion funding increase over five years, announced in the May Budget, may also be having a positive effect.  

Mr Millett said the research findings present an opportunity to meet the demands of Baby Boomers while providing high quality care as it’s needed. 

“As more Australians begin their aged care journey through uptake of home care services, before transitioning to residential aged care, providers can work with clients to assist along that continuum of care,” he said. 

The number of people using home care has tripled in the 10 years from 47,684 people in 2010 to 142,436 people in 20207. 

Approximately 335,000 have greater clinical needs and live in permanent communal residential aged care facilities or in respite homes8 with 24-hour onsite care with a further 184,000 Australians residing in retirement villages. 

“Three quarters of Baby Boomers want to begin aged care services with occasional or full-time visits within their own home, compared to 4% who would like communal residential aged care as their first step,” Mr Millett said. 

“This is the generation that doesn’t want to age like their parents and grandparents. They want to balance lifestyle, socialising with personalised high-quality care. Delivered on their terms.” 

RSL LifeCare used an independent third-party research house to survey a nationally representative group of more than 1,000 Australians aged 56-74.  

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