The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has a much younger age structure than the non-Indigenous population, due to higher rates of fertility and deaths occurring at younger ages (see also Profile of Indigenous Australians). However, as with the general population, the Indigenous population is also ageing.

Access to aged care services in Australia is determined by need, rather than age. However, planning for aged care services takes into account the specific needs of the Indigenous population aged 50 and over and the non-Indigenous population aged 65 and over (Department of Health 2018). A broader age group is used for Indigenous Australians because of their greater need for care at a younger age compared with non-Indigenous Australians.

This page focuses on Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over and their use of aged care services.

Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over

At 30 June 2016, around 124,000 Indigenous Australians were aged 50 and over. This includes about:

  • 90,000 aged 50–64
  • 32,100 aged 65–84
  • 1,900 aged 85 and over (ABS 2018).

Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over comprised:

  • 16% of the Indigenous population (of all ages)
  • 1.5% of the total Australian population aged 50 and over (ABS 2018).

Use of aged care services by Indigenous Australians

In Australia, the aged care system offers options to meet the different care needs of individuals. To help ensure aged care services are appropriate to the needs of all clients, the Aged Care Act 1997 designates some groups of people as ‘people with special needs’. Indigenous Australians are one such group (Aged Care Act 1997: s11–3). For Indigenous Australians, challenges for the aged care system include ensuring access to culturally appropriate care, especially for those living in remote and very remote areas (Australian National Audit Office 2017). In 2019, the Australian Government published Actions to support older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, developed under the Aged Care Diversity Framework. These outline actions to support more inclusive and culturally appropriate care for Indigenous Australians (Department of Health 2019).

Data on the use of aged care by Indigenous Australians are available from the AIHW National Aged Care Data Clearinghouse. Considering the main types of government-subsidised aged care, among Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over, about:

  • 20,200 received home support during 2017–18. This is entry-level support provided through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, aimed at helping people manage independently at home for as long as possible
  • 2,900 were receiving home care at 30 June 2018. This is a coordinated package of care and services, from basic through to high-level support, based on need, provided through the Home Care Packages Program
  • 1,700 were receiving residential care at 30 June 2018. This means staying in a residential aged care facility, on a respite or longer-term basis.

Indigenous Australians using residential aged care tended to be older than those using home care or home support (Figure 1). For example, nearly half (49%) in residential aged care were aged 75 and over, compared with 32% of Indigenous home care clients, and 27% of Indigenous home support clients.

Most Indigenous Australians using home care, home support or residential aged care lived in non-remote areas, as shown by data from the AIHW National Aged Care Data Clearinghouse. In 2017–18, among Indigenous home support clients (of all ages):

  • 4 in 5 (80%) lived in non-remote areas (Major cities, Inner regional or Outer regional areas)
  • the remaining 1 in 5 (20%) lived in remote areas (Remote or Very remote areas).

Similarly, for home care and residential aged care, at 30 June 2018, around 4 in 5 Indigenous clients lived in non-remote areas (82% for home care and 83% for residential aged care).

While most Indigenous clients lived in non-remote areas, the proportion of total Indigenous clients was considerably higher in remote areas. For example, among home support clients in 2017–18 whose Indigenous status was recorded, 31% in remote areas were Indigenous, compared with 2% in non-remote areas.

Another type of aged care is flexible aged care, which provides care for special groups or circumstances in a range of settings. An example is the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program, which provides culturally appropriate care for Indigenous Australians in locations close to their communities, and services mainly located in remote areas. On 30 June 2018, the program had 860 places (Department of Health 2018).

Comparisons with non-Indigenous Australians

Differences in aged care use exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over. With the exception of those aged 75 and over using residential care, rates of aged care use were higher for Indigenous Australians than for non-Indigenous Australians (Figure 2).

Among people aged 65–74, compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Indigenous Australians were:

  • 3.1x as likely to use home support (2017–18)
  • 7.1x as likely to use home care (June 2018)
  • 2.1x as likely to use residential aged care (June 2018).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on older Indigenous Australians and aged care among the Indigenous population, see:

See also Aged care for more on this topic.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2014. Estimates and projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2001 to 2026. ABS cat. no. 3238.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 October 2018.

ABS 2016. Australian demographic statistics, June 2016. ABS cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2016. ABS cat. no. 3238.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 October 2018.

Australian National Audit Office 2017. Indigenous aged care. Department of Health. Autralian Aged Care Quality Agency. Canberra: Australian National Audit Office. Viewed 12 March 2019.

Department of Health 2018. 2017–18 Report on the operation of the Aged Care Act 1997. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 12 March 2019.  

Department of Health 2019. Actions to support older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 27 February 2019.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Indigenous Australians using aged care in selected programs, by program and age group

This figure shows the use of home support, home care and residential aged care for Indigenous Australians by age group (0–49, 50–54, 55–59, 60–64, 65–69, 70–74, 75+). The figure shows that nearly half (49% at 30 June 2018) of Indigenous clients in residential aged care were aged 75 and over—higher than the proportions in home care (32% at 30 June 2018) and home support (27% in 2017–18). It also shows that the rate of aged care use increases with age across all 3 programs. For example, among those aged 0–49, 2 per 1,000 Indigenous Australians used home support in 2017–18, increasing to 611 per 1,000 among those aged 75 and over.

Figure 2: Rate by 1,000 population of aged care use among people aged 50 and over in selected programs, by age and Indigenous status, 2017–18

This figure shows the rate of aged care use by Indigenous status and age group (50–64, 65–69, 70–74 and 75+), for 3 programs—home support (as at 30 June 2018), home care (30 June 2018), and residential aged care (2017–18). Age-specific rates of aged care use were higher for Indigenous Australians than for non-Indigenous Australians in each program/age group combination, except for those aged 75 using residential aged care (where the rate was slightly higher for non-Indigenous Australians). For example, among people aged 70–74, the rate of home care use at 30 June 2016 was 55 per 1,000 population for Indigenous Australians, compared with 8 per 1,000 population for non-Indigenous Australians.