Thousands of elderly Australians use some form of respite care every year, but these services can sometimes be more difficult to access for those living in rural areas compared to those living in more urban environments.

In 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 40% of Australian in the 70-74 year age group lived in rural areas outside of large cities, highlighting that a large portion of the elderly population requires access to respite services in these areas.

Travel and costs

But due to living in these rural areas, forms of respite care are often much harder to come by, usually requiring people to travel large distances of up to 3 hours to the nearest one, of which many elderly are unable to travel to themselves.

Accompanying these long journeys is also the issue of costs. Public transport options are very limited in these rural areas, and if unable to rely on travel from friends or family, travel options such as taxis can end up being very expensive.

Some respite care providers can be found in rural areas, but they are often few and far between. Ann Young is one exception; she is the manager of a small care service in a rural area of Western Australia that provides short-term care as well as transport services for its customers.

But even she notes that more needs to be done to provide accessible respite care for those in rural areas: “The big providers can only really offer nursing care in rural areas,” she said.

“Carers can’t travel 200km for people to have their half hour shower three times a week.”

Similarly, large distances often mean it is difficult loved ones to visit as frequently as they would like.

Supply and Demand

Due to the lack of services, demand tends to exceed the choices available to those requiring care. “There is a lack of choice; in our area, there is one Geriatrician with a long waiting list for people wanting assessments and specialist advice prior to entering aged care,” she says. “What if you aren’t happy with the service?” said Maria Berry, who lives in a rural area near Wodonga.

The government has attempted to tackle the issue in recent years. The Multi-Purpose Services programme aims to ensure there is access to health and various aged care services in rural and remote communities. These services are usually administered by the state or territory health department.

But many people in rural areas still finding it difficult to access care are therefore doubtful of the programme’s successes and say more still needs to be done.

Vaughn Harding, Chief Executive of a care service in rural Western Australia, has seen the effects himself. While he provides a much-needed service, he knows the reality is many people are being forced to move to more urban areas just to receive the care they need:

“Many people are forced to relocate to larger regional centres or even metropolitan locations when they can no longer access the supports they need in their hometown,” he says.

And if things continue as they are, those requiring care in rural areas of the country will continue to struggle.