How to have 'the talk' with your elderly loved ones
HAVING a conversation with elderly relatives about aged care can be highly emotional.
But Mandy Becsi, care support officer at Blue Care, recommends starting the conversation sooner rather than later.
"I think that often people leave those conversations until the actual crisis happens," Ms Becsi said.
"Then everybody's in crisis and really can't think straight and it makes it a bit more difficult."
For many people, the thought of leaving the home they love, or accepting professional help to stay in that home, is unthinkable. Others have led independent, robust lives and mistakenly believe that accepting help is a sign of weakness.
"They think: I just have to put up with this and persevere through this - you just get on with it," Ms Becsi said.
The two biggest hurdles for people when they're contemplating aged care are the fear of becoming a burden and the fear of losing their independence, she said.
Planning ahead, however, increased independence because it put people in control of their future.
"If it was my mum, I'd probably sit down and say, 'Mum, I know you're managing well at the moment but have you got any sort of plan in mind? Have you thought ahead to a point in your life where you may no longer have your licence or you may no longer be able to walk up the stairs, or get out of the chair properly? Can you share with us some ideas that you have in mind about how you'd like things to play out?'"
Here are some tips on how to approach the subject of aged care with someone you care about:
- Start the conversation earlier rather than later. Talk with older relatives about what life can be like in the future long before they need care and while they are able to comprehend the benefits.
- Be sensitive about their concerns. This is about them, not you. If they are very resistant, Ms Besci recommends gently revisiting the conversation at a later date. Radical change is scary for everybody, regardless of age or health, so be patient.
- Do some research and find out what aged care options are available in their community.
- Start to build a relationship with a service provider - have an in-home care worker pop in, or arrange a social outing.
- Consult a General Practitioner (GP). Seeking advice from the doctor can help you make the right decision.
- Visit someone they know who is already using home assistance or has moved into a care facility so they can see first-hand what it's like.
- Arrange a tour of an aged care facility.
- Raise the benefits of regular assistance. If a problem occurs - a fall at home, a bout of loneliness, a job too big to handle, a driving mishap -raise the subject and ask them to consider the benefits of having regular assistance.
- Think ahead. Encourage them to complete an Advance Health Directive, which documents their instructions about their future health care. It comes into effect only if they become unable to make their own decisions.
- Discuss the positives. For most people, moving to aged care arrangements means more independence, not less, and also combats feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Aged care is a family affair
WHEN Diane went to inspect Argyle Gardens in Bundaberg as a possible home for her Aunt Betty, something clicked.
"I saw this house and thought 'Ooh, I like that'," Diane said, and promptly bought in to the retirement living community herself, despite being much younger and fitter.
She now lives in a neat, two-bedroom house in a street full of other neat houses.
Aunt Betty, meanwhile, stayed put.
"I feel that I can get involved in the village as much or as little as I want," Diane, a former civil servant, said.
"There are plenty of activities and services that can be used to my advantage when required."
That was five years ago. Diane, now 56, has since been joined by her mother, Joan, as well as Aunt Betty - although she took some convincing - who each have serviced apartments at the same Blue Care-run complex.
Joan, now 87, moved into Argyle Gardens two years ago, not long after the passing of her husband of 65 years, Les.
Although still healthy and capable of looking after herself, Joan realised the house she and her husband had shared for 23 of those years was just too much work.
Diane said security was a priority for both of them. Argyle Gardens offers serviced apartments with enclosed and lockable back patios.
"As her only child, I am pleased she is in the serviced apartments," she said.
"We each have our own space, but we basically live at the same address."
Aunt Betty, now 89, finally moved into Argyle Gardens in February this year at the insistence of her niece and sister. Her room is directly across the hall from Joan's.
She wasn't happy about the move initially. She wanted to stay at home but, as Diane tells it, Betty was putting herself at risk.
We each have our own space, but we basically live at the same address.
Diane, Argyle Gardens resident
"I can understand her wanting to stay at home," she said. "Most people do. She was doing fine as far as she was concerned … but she wasn't.
"She wasn't eating properly."
At Argyle Gardens, meals, laundry and cleaning are provided.
In the end, Diane and Joan had to have a difficult conversation with their relative that many families will be familiar with, one that juggles respect for their wishes against ensuring their welfare.
"She seems quite happy that she doesn't have to cook and clean anymore. While we are all not under the same roof, we all live at the same address and it is nice that we can be here for each other if necessary."
Aunt Betty certainly seems to have taken to life at Argyle Gardens with gusto. She was a bit miffed that we had interrupted her regular card game with friends. She reluctantly agreed to a family photo before hurrying off to the game.
After Betty departs, Joan shows us her accommodation. It is a cosy, one-bedroom unit with a separate kitchen, lounge, and an enormous television set.
Joan loves politics, and absorbs all she can from the commentary on TV. She harbours a desire to visit Federal Parliament in Canberra and heckle from the public gallery.
But it is also obvious she loves being with her daughter, and they laugh easily together.
"We don't have to see each other every day," said Joan.
"I like being on my own. But we go ten-pin bowling together on Fridays."
Joan tries not to miss bingo on Saturdays, and she is also a regular card player.
Diane, meanwhile, does whatever she wants. Her living situation is totally independent, even though she could call on the full range of Blue Care services if she chose.
In a way Argyle Gardens has always had a sense of home for Diane.
"My grandparents used to live here at Argyle," she said. "I used to love coming and visiting them here."
As the interview draws to a close at Diane's kitchen table, the two women smile at each other from opposite ends.
"We're alright aren't we, Di?" says Joan.
"We do pretty good," comes the reply.