One of the challenges we will all face at some stage in our lives is the fear of having to enter residential aged care, simply because we, or our families are no longer able to care for us. This has to be one of the hardest decisions a family must make.
I think back to earlier days when I was in my early 20’s. As a member of a youth group, we used to visit a local nursing home on a monthly basis to spend some time entertaining the residents.
At the time I guess we had no real appreciation of what the residents were enduring. The living arrangements were such that most residents were sharing rooms (four to a room). It was very much like a shared ward in a hospital where these folk spent most of their time in bed, whether they needed to or not.
Fortunately, the quality of aged care has improved significantly over the years, accompanied by a significantly increased awareness of the rights and needs of residents.
Today, residential aged care delivers a quality of accommodation that would have been unimagined by the people I used to visit, but residential aged care today still presents challenges.
When we need to arrange residential aged care, perhaps for an aged parent or family member, decisions often need to be made at very short notice. Mum or Dad may have had a fall, or their health has deteriorated to a point where they are unable to remain in their own home. We may be able to find a place in respite for a short stay but, in the end, we need to find a long term solution.
The pressure is on. On one hand, we seek accommodation that is of a quality and standard we believe Mum or Dad deserve, and on the other hand, a vacancy may not be available at our preferred facility, and even if a space is available, is it affordable?
On top of all of this is the emotional well-being of Mum or Dad. They may not be ready, in their mind, for residential aged care, but others are now in control of making the decisions.
I cannot imagine how stressful this might be for Mum or Dad, or the family members faced with the unenviable task of having to find accommodation for their loved ones.
For those of us that are not directly affected, we may find it difficult to understand the emotional turmoil that prospective aged care residents and their families go through as they struggle with the decisions that need to be made. We tend to look at the situation from a clinical or detached perspective. We may be able to address all the financial aspects and understand how “the system” works, but we are often only exposed to the emotional aspects in the periphery.
So, how do we prepare ourselves, and our clients, for what is possibly inevitable?
While aged care for a relative is something we don’t want to confront, those who are going to be making the decisions for family members need to start the conversation sooner, rather than later. At least, where there is some general agreement about Mum or Dad’s future care, a significant amount of stress can be relieved thereby allowing the family to channel their energies towards helping Mum or Dad make the transition.1