Baby boomers are set to revolutionise aged care by banging down the doors of change, according to new research by leading aged care provider, RSL LifeCare.
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,” he said.
“Our research shows a remarkable 40 per cent of Baby Boomers are still working, an extraordinary 61 per cent expect to fund their own retirement, and a mere 7 per cent 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 per cent of Baby Boomers believe their overall wellbeing is good, very good or excellent, while 84 per cent rate their physical health on the same scale and an overwhelming 89 per cent 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 disorders.
Australia has 5.2 million Baby Boomers, or 24 per cent of the country’s population.
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.
- 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 per cent now feel more positive towards occasional home visits. Additionally, COVID lockdowns mean that 14 per cent more Baby Boomers now want to live independently in their own homes and receive occasional home visits while 11 per cent would do the same with full-time visits.
- FUNDING – Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of BabyBoomers 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 per cent) of Baby Boomers want to stay in their own homes with occasional nursing visits. Only 3 per cent 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 per cent already retired, compared to a low of 55 per cent 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 per cent and 11 per cent of Baby Boomers respectively, compared to less than half the same proportion in Tasmania and Victoria at 5 per cent. 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 per cent of those in Tasmania.
- WELLBEING – Western Australians are the most optimistic and happy state in the country, with 98 per cent believing their overall wellbeing is good, very good or excellent. This falls to as low as 88 per cent 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 per cent) and South Australians (18 per cent) regard their physical health as poor, compared to only one in eight Canberrans (12 per cent) and Victorians (13 per cent).
- 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 per cent of Victorian Baby Boomers and 13 per cent of those in NSW described their mental health as ‘poor’ compared to 0 per cent in ACT, 3 per cent in Western Australia and 5 per cent in Tasmania.
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – Northern Territory (33 per cent) and the ACT (29 per cent) 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 per cent.
- UNDERSTANDING AGED CARE COSTS – The most vulnerable states are Tasmania where 71 per cent have little or no knowledge, followed by Western Australia 67 per cent. 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.
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 per cent) of Baby Boomers want to stay in their own homes with occasional nursing visits, while only 3 per cent 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 per cent 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 5300 fewer people admitted to permanent residential aged care compared to 2019 and 11,100 few people admitted respiting residential aged care.
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 per cent of the total population, are currently over the age of 65.
By 2057, that will rise to 8.8 million, or 22 per cent of the population, and by 2097 it will reach 12.8 million people, or one in four Australians.
The RSL LifeCare research found 63 per cent 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 slowly improving.
Sixteen per cent believe aged care is very good or excellent, up from 10 per cent in 2020, while 39 per cent say it’s less than satisfactory or poor, down from 48 per cent 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.
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 2020.
Approximately 335,000 have greater clinical needs and live in permanent communal residential aged care facilities or in respite homes 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 per cent who would like communal residential aged care as their first step,” 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 1000 Australians aged 56-74.
Men vs women
- Overwhelmingly, Baby Boomer women prefer to live on their own independently (94 per cent), compared to only 72 per cent of Baby Boomer men. Likewise, Baby Boomer men are much more likely to need the comfort of communal living, with 18 per cent of them living in residential aged care and a further 10 per cent in retirement homes.
- Baby Boomer men more likely to be attracted to the benefits of communal living, women’s preference for independent living may have profound consequences for the structure of aged care facilities in the years ahead.
- Baby Boomer men are three times more likely to cycle to keep physically active than women who are 10 times more likely to use yoga than males
- Despite much national debate about the difference in superannuation between men and women, Baby Boomers of both genders have a remarkably close reliance on it to fund their aged care needs – 64 per cent for men and 59 per cent for women. This suggests that superannuation is likely to fund the aged care needs of couples.
- COVID has negatively affected the perceptions of women more than men. Five per of men felt more positive, compared to only 2 per cent of women, while 19 per cent of men felt more negative compared to 27 per cent of women
- While Baby Boomers overwhelmingly favour living independently as possible when they enter communal facilities, there is a notable difference between men and women in the choice. 71 per cent of women would prefer a small, assisted living village with onsite care, compared with only 59 per cent of men. This is because 14 per cent of men prefer larger villages, presumably for the social aspects, compared to only 10 per cent of women.
- Women are more social than men, with only one in seven (15 per cent) indicating they have no interest in group activities compared to one in four males (25 per cent)
Younger Baby Boomers vs older ones (56-74 years old)
- More than a quarter of younger Baby Boomers, aged between 56 and 60, are already retired. This rises to 88 per cent over the age of 65 and 92 per cent over the age of 80. This suggests Baby Boomers don’t want to work until they die and want to enjoy their retirement.
- A key finding of the report is the way younger Baby Boomers in their late 50s will fund their aged care needs compared to those in their early 70s. Overwhelmingly, 73 per cent of younger Baby Boomers will rely on their superannuation and only 37 per cent on the taxpayer funded pension, compared to 44 per cent of older Baby Boomers relying on their superannuation and a staggering 64 per cent on the government pension.
- Younger Baby Boomers under 60 years of age are much more likely to be a carer for another person (presumably their parents) than older ones over the age of 70. One in four younger Baby Boomers falls into this category, ironically only a few years after their own parenting responsibilities of their children are likely to have ceased.
- Four in five older Baby Boomers describe their overall physical health as good, very good or excellent, indicating the Life Be In campaign of the 1970s has had an enduring and positive effect.
- Younger Baby Boomers are three times more likely to go cycling than older ones, while golf is the favoured choice of older Baby Boomers.
- Younger Baby Boomers under 60 years of age are the first digital generation, so it is not surprising that they are twice as likely as older Baby Boomers in their early 70s to want to live in a ‘futuristic’ aged care facility with the latest technology
- COVID has had a greater impact on younger Baby Boomers than older ones. One in seven have a more negative view of aged care as a result of COVID while fewer than one in 10 older Baby Boomers share that view.
- As Baby Boomers age they are less inclined to want to engage in group activities. One in four older Baby Boomers feel this way compared to fewer than one in five younger Boomers.
State vs State
- Canberrans seem to be the best placed of all Australians to fund their aged care needs, relying on a combination of self-funded property, cash savings, superannuation, and investments rather than government funded pensions or part-pensions. This is ironical given that Canberra has one of the highest rates of government employees in the nation.
- South Australian Baby Boomers are funding their aged care needs at a higher rate than the national average with cash savings, superannuation and part-pensions and a lower rate for property income.
- NSW and Victorian Baby Boomers are typical of the national average when it comes to funding their aged care needs, relying on a combination of superannuation, pension, investments, and the pension.
- Queensland and Western Australian Baby Boomers are slightly more likely than the rest of the nation to fund their aged care needs through the publicly funded pension, and slightly less likely to fund it themselves through their own superannuation or investments.
- Victoria‘s rolling series of COVID related lockdowns, and more than 800 fatalities in aged care in 2021 has seen Baby Boomers in that state lead the country in terms of negative sentiment towards residential aged care. Twenty-seven per cent of Victorian Baby Boomers have a more negative view of communal residential aged care because of COVID, against a national average of 23 per cent.
- Aged Care settings – Baby Boomers want to continue living as independent a lifestyle as possible, even when they may need to enter communal living. For this reason, 65% would prefer a smaller communal setting, rather than a larger one.
- Baby Boomers generally have a poor regard of formalised aged care options in Australia, but those attitudes are slowing improving. 16 per cent say aged care is very good/excellent (up from 10 per cent in 2020), while 39 per cent say it’s less than satisfactory/poor (down from 48 per cent 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.
- Aged care funding – The overwhelming majority, 70 per cent, of Baby Boomers disagree the aged care sector is adequately funded in Australia.
- Health and Wellbeing – The defining image of older generations – lawn bowls – has little or no attraction for the Vietnam War protest generation. Only 3 per cent play it, compared to 49 per cent who garden and 15 per cent who swim. More than four times as many Baby Boomers cycle (13 per cent) than those who play lawn bowls. The face of retirement exercise has changed for ever.
- Care needs – 99 per cent of Baby Boomers want to remain in their own home until they can’t care for themselves, or it’s too difficult for family to do so. Only 1 per cent want to move into communal facilities earlier than is absolutely medically necessary.