Moving into an aged care home is a momentous step for you and your family and a highly emotional time for all concerned. At the same time a lot of practical steps need to be taken, often under real time pressure. No wonder it’s considered one of the most traumatic events of our lives. It’s important to realise that, while your family’s circumstances are unique, you are not alone.
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Everyone is human, all situations are different and sometimes communication breaks down or becomes too difficult. We are here to help with advice on how to manage the emotional highs and lows. Also please consider seeking advice or assistance from a trusted friend or other relative, the GP, a counsellor, or a member of the clergy, for example. You can also contact the National Aged Care Advocacy Line on: 1800 700 600. The My Aged Care contact centre can also help: phone 1800 200 422 or visit the website.
Whoever raises the topic, at some stage there needs to be an honest and open conversation about your current situation and the ‘what ifs’.
And it’s always best to start the conversation sooner, rather than later.
You have much more control and you'll get a better outcome if you act before a crisis is upon you.
If you have come to agedcare101 in the ‘relatively luxurious’ situation of thinking about aged care as a possible consideration for the future – as opposed to a rapidly approaching necessity - it is worthwhile considering the consequences of different courses of action.
- Your health and medical status
- Where you might want to live if home was no longer an option
- Your key decision-makers if you lose capacity
- Your end-of-life plans and wishes?
- Whether your will needs updating
- Your financial situation and whether you need financial advice
- The possibility of needing to sell your home to help pay for your accommodation and care
- The people, pets and other things you might be concerned about
- Any special requests or wishes about your future
- Location of key documents and passwords
However you choose to approach the topic, there will be complex questions and emotions to deal with - for you, your family members and others close to you. Nobody says it is easy, but here are our tips for giving everyone the best chance at a good outcome:
Remember, everyone has the right to take risks and make decisions about their own life
Even when someone is very ill or has early signs of dementia, everyone needs to be able to express their opinions and preferences and have them respected. The exception is when someone is unconscious or has severe cognitive impairment from dementia or other brain disease or injury.
Think of it as an ongoing series of conversations
Don’t think of it as one ‘conversation’. Ideas can evolve and opinions change over time. Available options can change as well. Unless the situation is critical, there is no need to finalise any decisions in a single conversation.
Start talking sooner, rather than later.
Allow time for several discussions with minimal pressure involved. Don’t wait for a crisis. It’s the popular wisdom but there is a good reason for it.
Be open, honest and respectful – on all sides
Be sensitive to everyone’s needs and concerns but don’t avoid being truthful either. This isn’t a time for emotional games.
‘Walk a mile in my shoes’
If you are the person who needs to think about aged care, even if it’s just a possibility, remember to consider the impact that your attitudes and decisions can have on family members and loved ones. What if you were in their shoes? While you may be determined to stay living in your home at all costs, what impact will this decision have on your loved ones? They might be sick with worry or stressed and over-stretched with trying to help you. How will your loved ones be affected?
If it is your parent or another loved one who is having to consider the future in these terms, avoid the trap of the role reversal. They may be in a difficult patch of life but they are not children. Remember that they are adults who have led full and meaningful lives and now they are dealing with complex emotions and feelings of change and loss. Ask yourself: ‘what would I want/like/demand/hate if it was me in this situation’? How would you like to be spoken to?
Mind your language
No matter how smooth and understanding the process has been or how appealing the aged care home (nursing home) might be, these are difficult conversations. Nobody likes to be ‘moved to a nursing home’. It implies total loss of personal power which should never be the case. Be positive and considerate. Avoid language that implies the person is a ‘problem’ to be solved by others. Acknowledge that every person is different and there is no generic ‘one size fits all’ response when it comes to aged care. Find common goals and work together as much as possible. Focus on getting the right care and support, retaining control and retaining as much independence as you can.
Listen – don’t make assumptions
Sometimes people can be surprised by the way others behave and respond to things. It works both ways. Don’t assume you know what your parent or loved one will think and feel. At the same time, don’t assume you know what your adult children or other loved ones will want for you. Listen to each other with an open mind and be prepared to accommodate surprises.
Make it a collaboration
One of the new policy mantras in aged care is to ‘do with’, not ‘do for’. It’s an acceptance that most people hate to have their sense of choice and control taken away, even when they know they need other people’s assistance. It applies in all situations. However well-meaning it might be, it’s never a good idea to simply ‘take over’. If you’re looking at care options, do it together. Sit in front of the computer together, make phone calls together, keep lines of communication open and transparent. If you want to hand things over to someone else, that’s fine as long as it’s your decision, on your terms.
Get outside help if you need it
Everyone is human, all situations are different and sometimes communication breaks down or becomes too difficult. Others can often help. Consider seeking advice or assistance from a trusted friend or other relative, the GP, a counselor, or a member of the clergy, for example. You can also contact the National Aged Care Advocacy Line on: 1800 700 600. The My Aged Care contact centre can also help: phone 1800 200 422 or visit the website.
- Accept old stereotypes about aged care. Aged care is very different these days and you can expect to be pleasantly surprised
- Apply pressure on someone to get an outcome - and never resort to emotional blackmail.
- Assume that because someone has lost capacity to do some things, that they've lost all capacity.
Start talking sooner, rather than later and think of it as an ongoing series of conversations.
NOTE for family members and carers:
Having successful conversations between family members and other loved ones can be critical to getting a good care outcome. Remember, if you are caring for or advising a loved one who needs to find aged care, and you plan to help them navigate the process, you will need to have their permission to act on your behalf.