WE'RE all feeling a little overwhelmed right now. During this era of COVID-19, many of us are trying to sort through confusing information, to work out the best fit for our individual circumstances. It's difficult to feel calm and in control.
Older rural community-dwellers are already at a disadvantage when compared to their metropolitan counterparts. Often there is only one service provider in their town or area meaning they can't "shop around", and may have to endure poor service as there is no other option. Older people value independent living, but when they need support, they get placed on a long waiting list.
Sadly, some people never receive the care they require. Also concerning is the difficulty accessing trusted information when making decisions about aged care.
Through La Trobe University's research with the Consumer Policy Research Centre we've demonstrated that navigating information online is difficult, with many rural older people becoming overwhelmed.
We found the federal government's My Aged Care website - designed to help people find and access government-funded aged care services - often left people confused by copious amounts of irrelevant information. That's if they had the skills and experience to search online in the first place. We also discovered that some rural general practitioners and healthcare workers lacked knowledge of My Aged Care and local aged care services. This is problematic for those older people who lack digital literacy skills, isolated from family and friends, and rely on healthcare workers for information.
What can we do to improve access to aged care for country dwellers?
Every rural local government area needs an independent "aged care co-ordinator" - an advocate with knowledge of the local context, who is able to provide comprehensive localised, and relevant, information.
We also recommend that My Aged Care is reviewed to ensure it is fit-for-purpose in a thin rural market. Rural healthcare workers need training to promote ageing well, and to help older people better understand available options. We submitted these recommendations to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety last month.
There are other important steps we can take, but this would be a great start. A third of older Australians live in rural and regional communities. They, like the rest of us, deserve to make informed decisions about their care.
Professor Irene Blackberry and Dr Clare Wilding are from the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research at La Trobe University.