After living in Brighton for almost 50 years, Trevor and Jenny Tiller are in no rush to leave.
But as the years go by, they have had to face some hard truths.
Aged 81, Mrs Tiller, a former school psychologist, is living with a degenerative neurological disorder.
“In two and a half years, Jen has gone from walking slowly to barely walking,” Mr Tiller said.
Their son, an architect, convinced the couple to look into renovation options to make their ground-floor apartment more accessible. Reluctant, they had plans drawn up and sought some quotes
“We did it, thinking it was something we’d act on in the future,” Mr Tiller said.
But when Mrs Tiller was recently hospitalised for ankle surgery, her husband knew she could not return to their home unless things changed.
“It wasn’t a matter of waiting anymore,” he said. “She was no longer capable of getting in and out of the bath.”
The Tillers are like thousands of older Australians, opting to renovate their houses to delay moving into retirement villages and nursing homes.
In fact, figures show more than 80% of people aged between 85 and 89 live in private housing, which includes self-contained flats in retirement villages, with roughly half of the population, aged between 95 and 99, occuping private dwellings, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Council on the Ageing head Ian Yates said the reasons older Australians wanted to stay at home were varied.
“Mostly it’s because they want control over their lives, and they enjoy where they live,” Mr Yates said. “They might need some help, but that doesn’t mean that they feel they need to give up control and, unfortunately, residential aged care is too often associated with a lack of control.”
With one in six Australians now aged over 65, the government is in the process of reforming home care.
Aged care minister Ken Wyatt said $2.2 billion would be spent on the Commonwealth Home Support Program for older Australians this financial year.
“The Australian government acknowledges many people would prefer to live independently at home as they get older,” Mr Wyatt said.
By 2050, the government estimates a workforce of more than 800,000 people will help service the needs of 3.5 million older Australians, mainly in their own homes.
Home care packages have expanded enormously in the past decade but Mr Yates criticised the “lack of consistency” between the states and territories on home modification schemes.
Architects and builders have reported a significant increase in queries surrounding home modifications, such as installing ramps and rails.
Archicentre Australia director Peter Georgiev said accessibility was a primary consideration in new buildings, pointing to accessible separate studios, or granny flats.
“I can’t say with any authority that it is on people’s radar but it’s a bloody good idea,” Mr Georgiev said. “If it’s not, then it should be.”
Mr Tiller could afford to renovate the bathroom, quoted at between $9,000 and $14,000.
The 82-year-old former consulting engineer spent countless hours poring over information about government assistance services and funding packages.
“It’s like finding your way blindfolded through a maze of razor wire,” Mr Tiller said. “It takes a lot of time and a fair amount of intellectual effort to work your way through the whole thing.”
The government said current reforms were aimed at giving consumers greater choice and flexibility over the way support was provided.
The Tillers hope to stay in their home for as long as possible.
“For Jen, it’s important,” Mr Tiller said. “She’s not looking forward to permanent residential care at all.”
This article was originally published on Domain on 5 August 2017. It represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.
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