Choosing the best and most appropriate aged care option can be confusing. To help simplify things, we talked to industry professionals and aged care advocates about what to look for, what to avoid, and key issues to be aware of when searching for the best aged care service providers.

The following are the official Government websites that contain information on aged services in Australia:

  1. MyAgedCare:
    Basic information about aged care services include contact and location, accommodation pricing and status of home – and not much else: Service finder – Aged care homesService finder – Home care
  2. Department of Social Services:
    Aged Care Sanctions and Notices of Non-Compliance: Information about regulatory action taken against aged care homes by the Department of Social Services.
  3. Australian Aged Care Quality Agency:
    Reports: The body established by the Australian Government to accredit residential care services and home care. You can search and download accreditation reports (announced visits only).

Step 1: ACAT assessment

Whether you’re looking for in-home support or residential aged care, the first step is to contact the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT, or ACAS in Victoria). ACAT will visit your home to review your needs and may approve eligibility for either community care (services delivered to you at home) or entry into a residential aged-care home.

For the latter, a copy of the assessment report will be given to you – you’ll need this when filling out residential aged care applications.

Step 2: Understanding key issues and insights

Lack of consumer knowledge

Perhaps the biggest issue when researching aged care services is that, currently, there are no official ratings or consumer-driven evaluation to compare, praise or expose service providers. In the absence of such a system, consumers are at a serious disadvantage.

When selecting residential aged care, Bennett says a smart approach involves talking to other consumers about their experiences and having a checklist that includes:

  • a resident-centred care approach
  • measures to cater for people with dementia
  • culturally appropriate care
  • involvement of relatives and friends
  • effective pain management
  • minimal use of restraint
  • use of specialist supports
  • end-of-life care options

Staffing ratios of residential facilities

Be aware that currently in Australia there is no federally mandated staff ratio or minimum skills level for residential aged care workers. Lynette Dickens, a specialist palliative care nurse with more than 20 years’ experience in aged care, says that despite marketing messages of smiling nurses and attentive health care professionals, the real staffing situation might consist of a few low- or no-skilled staff and very poor carer-to-client ratios.

In-home care versus residential care

Despite the lack of any industry ratings data, anecdotal evidence suggests – and many health care professionals agree – that when compared to residential aged care, in-home care is the better option

Step 3: Tips for choosing a service provider

With a better idea of the key concerns we’ve outlined above, you might find yourself ready to begin selecting and evaluating providers. Here are some tips.

1. Weigh up in-home care versus residential care

Talk to friends and family, your doctor and other community health professionals before contacting the ACAT team for their recommendation. Together you can best determine your level of need whether it be in-home help or residential aged care.

2. Compare a selection of care providers

When evaluating care options, especially residential aged care options, contact a wide selection of providers for a greater sense of comparison. Try to talk to current clients and their families for some consumer evaluation. Do not rely on the marketing literature alone.

3. Do your research and use a checklist

When visiting aged-care homes arrive prepared with a series of questions. The Aged Care Crisis website has a good nursing home checklist

4. Check staffing arrangements carefully

Given there are no minimum staff or skills ratios, check staffing arrangements carefully. If you’re quoted staff numbers, check to see that the number of staff providing direct care do not include laundry or kitchen staff. In a site visit, take time to notice staff and their demeanour and ask about staff turnover.

5. Check staff training for special care services (Alzheimer’s care for example)

If specialist care is required for conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease or for clients who may be blind or deaf, ask about staff training and qualifications as well as day-to-day practices.

6. Check frequency of access to doctors and other medical specialists

Ask about the frequency of visits from nurses, doctors and other specialists.

7. Seek consumer feedback on services

There is no feedback more valuable than that from current consumers. Ask to be put in touch with a family who already use the service and talk to them about their experience. In addition, engage in some investigation at the facility, for example, ask to visit at meal times to observe the environment and sample the meals (offer to pay if necessary).

8. Ensure you know your rights and responsibilities

Those using aged care have the right to be looked after properly, treated well and be provided with high-quality care and services. Understanding your rights and responsibilities as well as those of the service provider (read the Department of Health charters for home care and residential care) will help you make an informed decision and get the best quality care to suit your needs.