The Australian population is ageing. In 2007, 16% of Australians were over the age of 65. Fewer births and a trend of longer average life expectancy, means that in 2056 projections over a quarter of the population, up to 28%, will be aged over 65. [1-2] This change in the age of Australians raises real challenges for government and service providers regarding carers and questions who might be providing care in the future. 
The nature of families is also changing. Separation, divorce and re-partnering, having and parenting fewer children or none at all, and a greater proportion of ageing Australians mean that smaller households and people living alone are more and more common. 
The upward trend of employment among women, those who are traditionally regarded as care providers, reduces their availability to provide palliative care. Where an illness is protracted, this can have financial and employment implications for carers. 
Geographical mobility of families in modern Australia means that family ties and social networks are stretched over distance, beyond the boundary of household or neighbourhood, often over States or even countries. Such ties are not captured in census data. As yet little is known how distance influences caring and carer needs. [6-7] This type of ‘distance care giving’ could have implications for the way in which palliative care services provide ongoing support to families.
Families and carers too, are diverse. Ex-spouses, younger family members and siblings may all take on carer roles. [8-10]
Such diversity requires relevant and responsive health policy and services to support the various groups of Australians currently providing informal care :
- 380,000 carers under the age of 26
- 170,000 carers under the age of 18
- nearly 2 million carers of prime working age (15-64)
- 31,600 Indigenous carers over the age of 15
- 620,000 carers born outside Australia
- 366,700 of those born in other than main English-speaking countries
- 454,000 carers over 65 – almost 1 in 5 persons.
Changes to family and carer patterns could have implications for the way in which palliative care services provide on going support to families and carers.