Dying with serious illness and frailty

Even as we enjoy a longer lifespan, dying remains a natural part of the ageing process. The Australian population is getting older and with this the risk of life-limiting illness and frailty is increasing. People who are older are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, making their care needs more complex.

Why palliative care matters 

In 2017-18, one in two people aged 65 years and over had two or more chronic conditions. In 2018 the leading causes of death for Australians in this age group were:

  • dementia,
  • coronary heart disease,
  • lung cancer, and
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

At advanced stages of these life-limiting chronic conditions palliative care can improve care and quality of life. Older Australians are also more likely to have cancer than people in other westernised countries. That they enjoy a longer life expectancy than in many other countries likely contributes to this. For those over 80 years of age frailty is common and with it a reduction in function, resilience, and ability to recover from illness is noted. This often indicates that they are approaching the end of their life.

Common barriers and outcomes

The way that our families and communities care for people who are older has changed over time. Families often move away for work which can leave older people with less social and advocacy support. This can result in poor access to health care services including palliative care. Older people may also have diverse backgrounds and life experiences that can affect their access to care.

When the complex needs of an older person combine with that of other population groups, a unique complexity is experienced.

Overcoming the barriers

  • Some individuals may prefer to stay in their own home despite having no family support. Poor access to palliative care may occur through fear of being placed in residential care or being sent to hospital and not coming home. Providing an older person advocate to navigate the health system would improve access to care.
  • There could be financial barriers to accessing care as services often have fees. Some older people may be unwilling or unable to pay for services despite the need for care. Accessing financial management services may help with budgeting.

Learn more

To find out more about palliative care for older people visit our palliAGED website and the Aged Care Diversity Framework (3.25MB pdf).

This information was drawn from the following resource:

Last updated 02 August 2021