As your parents age, it’s common for their children to worry about their health and wellbeing. It’s also common for older people to worry about their future.
Many people have a negative perception of aged care, and would prefer to remain independently in their own home as long as possible. And no-one likes having decisions made for them. This can make it difficult for family members to raise the topic of aged care.
However, the earlier this conversation can happen, the better the outcome usually is. It’s important to take about future plans with your aging parents before something catastrophic happens and the choice is taken out of everyone’s hands.
When family members start to recognise changes in their parent’s health or ability to look after themselves, it’s probably time to have the conversation.
For a more in-depth look at why you should start aged care planning early, have a look at this article.
Look for signs
Pay close attention to the appearance, health, mental state and home life of your loved one. You can uncover important clues that something is changing and that they are struggling to cope with life. Signs can include:
- Changes in habits or hobbies, such as a once-proud gardener now ignoring their overgrown backyard
- An untidy house
- Wearing creased or unwashed clothes
- A change in normal grooming habits, such as shaving, showering or wearing makeup
- An empty fridge or pantry
- Cuts or bruises from falls or accidents
When signs like this start becoming more frequent, it’s time to raise the topic of the future.
Raising the topic
Older people are concerned about loss of independence, control and the home and lifestyle they love. Conversations should be started on a positive note, and focus around how the parent can continue to maintain a level of independence. Talk about what they can do and how they can keep doing that, rather than focussing on ways that they are not managing. Of course, this will need to be brought up, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the conversation. Many older people will not want to admit to cognitive decline, failing health or problems coping. Put yourself in their shoes and try and see it from their perspective. Consider how you would respond to suggestions that you’re not coping and might need more help. This may help you find a better way to approach the topic.
Ideally, conversations about aged care should be carried out when the elderly person in question is medically stable, comfortable and able to make decisions. Obviously, this will not always be possible, but this is where advance planning comes in. If you plan your conversation before the older person is at the stage of desperately needing aged care, you have a better chance of achieving a satisfactory outcome.
Good times to initiate the conversation with an elderly family member might include:
- When they attend a health assessment or doctor’s appointment
- When they receive a medical diagnosis, which will impact their future health or plans
- When there is a diagnosis of early dementia
- If there are changes in care arrangements
- If they display signs of anxiety or stress about the future
- If they are becoming increasing unable to care for themselves adequately, such as experiencing falls in the home
- “I was thinking about what happened when you … and it made me realise that …”
- “If … happened to me, I would want …”
- “Why don’t we have a chat about making some changes to the house so you can stay here as long as possible?”
- “There have been some changes happening in aged care lately – care to find out more?”
To read more about overcoming the fear of moving into aged care, click here.
What to cover during the conversation
Make sure you do some research and find out what options are available for aged care. Residential aged care is not the only option. For instance, if your parent is struggling with maintaining their home or garden, in-home support might be all that’s needed. Home Care Packages provide a coordinated and personalised system of care that covers things such as cleaning, shopping and personal care to allow older people to remain in their homes as long as possible. There can be a long wait to receive these services however, which is another reason why it’s best to have the aged care conversation early.
To read more about Aged care in Australia – your choices, click here.
Obviously financial considerations will play a part in the choices that you and your parent make. If your parent doesn’t want to disclose private financial details with you, encourage them to talk to a financial advisor. Keep in mind that there are always options available to help those facing financial difficulty.
Many older people may struggle to admit the true extent of their problems and what they really need, especially if they fear this is going to lead to their established life changing in some way. Try and get your parent to be honest about what they actually need. If you’re struggling to get them to open up, try talking to their neighbours, doctor or other healthcare provider to find out more. You need to have an accurate picture of what areas they are struggling in and what might help, to be able to make the best decision about their future.
Older people need to maintain their dignity and feel like capable, intelligent adults with choices, so treat them like the adults they are, not like a child. Empower them to make their own choices as much as possible. Rather than making choices for them, outline their options, and where possible, let them make the decision. Don’t start with what you think is the answer to the problem – instead, let them discover it for themselves.
Perhaps think about implementing one change, such as a cleaner, and then slowly introducing others as your parent adjusts.
Don’t feel guilty
Many people feel extreme guilt at the thought of putting their parent in care, rather than providing the care themselves. This can be exacerbated by elderly parents who may have the expectation that their children will look after them. To put your parents into care can be one of the hardest decisions of your life.
However, moving someone to assisted living doesn’t mean that you’ve failed in your duties as a child or carer. Sometimes it’s the best option in giving your loved one the care they need. Think of it this way – if you can’t provide the care your parent needs, it’s not fair to deprive them of it. You’ll be taking good care of your parent by ensuring that they have all they need to give them a good quality of life. And you certainly won’t be abandoning them – make plans to visit regularly, spend as much time with them as you can and talk frequently on the phone.
Aged care facilities can improve the quality of life for older Australians – click here to discover all the ways they achieve this.
Above all, be understanding, respectful and honest
Approach the topic with a positive attitude and an attitude of respect and compassion. This is a difficult time for your parent or loved one, and they need your understanding and support. Have the conversation and start the wheels in motion to get them the help they need, but reassure them that you’ll always be there for them and will help them make the best choices along the way.
To find out what support is available for people applying to enter an aged care facility, click here.