Aged care reforms must focus on improving quality of life

The quality of life of older Australians must be a key priority in proposed Productivity Commission reforms to the aged care system, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

The Society welcomes the report, which has addressed the great financial challenges in caring for an ageing population, and attempts to bring much-needed clarity and certainty to those throughout Australia who are in need of aged care.  

David Stokes, psychologist and author of several APS submissions on aged care, said that the proposed establishment of a new Australian Aged Care Regulation Commission will present a not-to-be-missed opportunity to enshrine quality of life as a key factor by which aged care providers would be judged. This will ensure that quality of life could not be overlooked in favour of short-term financial considerations.

Mr Stokes said:  “It is not well understood how committing to quality of life support makes good financial sense. By addressing the social and psychological needs of older Australians, evidence shows us it is possible to promote positive ageing, which allows people to remain active and healthy for longer and function better, reducing the burden on aged care services.

One of the significant challenges facing the aged care sector is the complex care required by many older Australians, in cases where several challenges or disorders exist together – for instance, dementia coupled with depression. But in most cases, sufferers receive only medical treatment, which does not address the underlying social and emotional causes.

Mr Stokes said: “The Productivity Commission report does not go far enough in ensuring that older Australians have access to the range of services that could help them adjust to ageing, and go on to live healthily and independently for longer. Ageing is a normal biological, social and emotional process, and is not just about the development of medical issues. The health, social, emotional and environmental support that older people need – whether in the community or in care – is still seen as an optional extra. But the evidence shows this is a false economy.”

A series of studies has shown that behavioural interventions are often more effective than medical treatment. One study in 2002 found that, when it came to treating disruptive behaviour in dementia sufferers, psychological services were more effective than medication, and in fact reduced the need for drugs and doctors visits.

The Australian Psychological Society – which made two submissions to the Productivity Commission during its examination of the aged care system – said that early consultation with consumers was essential to ensure new programs and policies were appropriate, and effective, as well as financially wise.

Mr Stokes said: “For many older Australians, satisfaction with care is reliant on users feeling they have independence, choice over care and connectedness to a community. The proposed Australian Aged Care Regulation Commission and the Government must measure aged care services against these principles.”

“Elderly Australians deserve the dignity of a system that promises to focus on ensuring their quality of life. Such a system is in the best interests of all of the community and the Government, but it requires commitment and funding to achieve the best outcomes.”

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More information on the Australian Psychological Society is available at . For media enquiries please contact Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444.

Tip sheets on positive ageing and on latelife depression are available on the Australian Psychological Society website at

Submission to the Productivity Commission Draft Report on Caring for Older Australians
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples’ lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.