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Researchers call for more culturally appropriate health and aged care services for older Aboriginal Australians

A new study has found that the majority of older Aboriginal Australians are avoiding mainstream health and aged care services, as they feel safer using services that are governed and delivered by Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) are run by Aboriginal people and are based in local Aboriginal communities.

This research by Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) has found 64 per cent of Aboriginal Australians aged over 60 only access health and aged care from ACCOs.

ACCOs incorporate cultural care by meeting the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the patient, which is integral to the health and wellbeing of this population.

They include Aboriginal Medical or Health Services, which provide holistic and culturally informed primary healthcare, as well as a range of home care, community support, and residential aged care services.

“Aboriginal people are getting good care at these facilities and their cultural needs are being met. ACCOs are working and we want to see more recognition of that and investment in these services,” said research lead, Dr Kylie Radford.

The study included older Aboriginal people from urban Sydney, and regional communities across New South Wales.

Results showed the two most important factors for Aboriginal people when seeking health and aged care services were the ability to relate to their doctor or carer on a cultural level, and to have access to an environment that is spiritually, emotionally and socially safe.

In particular, researchers found that Aboriginal Australians avoided mainstream services because of cultural barriers and previous experiences with discrimination.

“Understanding community preferences, as well as current barriers to service access, is important for the planning and development of aged care services, the demand for which is growing rapidly,” said Dr Kylie Radford.

Dr Radford says that the findings support the need for greater investment in ACCOs, as there will be over half a million older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia by 2050.

“To facilitate equitable access, aged care and disability services need to consider the cultural safety, flexibility and proximity of services provided to Aboriginal communities,” said Dr Radford.

“Aboriginal Community Controlled health services could be leading the way and partnering with other organisations to meet the emerging needs of communities, especially their older members,” she said.