I recently attended a forum where the thorny issue of aged care was under the microscope and while listening and contributing to the discussions, I was again flooded with what I call our ‘unspoken guilt’.
That’s the culpability that comes with the harsh realisation that we cannot provide the care for our beloved parents and need to delegate it to – let’s be blunt – complete strangers in a residential aged care facility.
This is further compounded by the veritable minefield we’re faced with when that moment of making the most judicious decision for mum and dad arrives. Buying a house might be challenging, navigating last year’s online census arduous, but both pale when compared with understanding the process involved in finding the right facility and the eligibility steps required, not to mention the user unfriendliness of the MyAgedCare website.
I speak from experience as my mother, although relatively young, has had MS nearly all my life and my sister and I faced that very dilemma when the home carer could no longer manage mum at home. And as mum was in her early 50s, the tough call was made even tougher.
Even with my background in health, aged care at the time was a little foreign so I think it’s fair to say my sister and I simply ‘lucked it’ when placing mum. Our luck, though, came from a shared appreciation that the facility had to meet mum’s requirements rather than ours. After all, it’s where she lives 24/7 and where we visit, so who matters most?
A swanky residential aged care facility might have a fancy WiFi café but if mum or dad has never used IT, what’s the point… other than perhaps being of use to you when you visit or giving you bragging rights when telling friends what a swish place you’ve found for your parents?
In honesty, where my mum is wouldn’t be right for me but she loves it. It’s nothing fancy but has a tremendous “heart”, it’s her home, she feels she belongs and that’s what is ultimately important.
I’d like to close by stressing the importance of approaching and attending to the decision with an open and observant mind – and sharing four tips I hope will give your beloved parents the greatest chance of moving into the best possible aged care facility.
Firstly, look around and see what the residents are doing. Are they active and engaged or passively sitting in their rooms or in front of the TV? A visit at mealtimes will give you a great feel for the facility’s communal nature.
Secondly, observe the residents. It’s pretty easy to tell whether they’re happy.
Thirdly, watch the staff in action, interacting with residents. Do they provide the bare necessities or do they go the extra mile, really engaging in a meaningful way?
And finally, ask about the activities they hold, how long they run and what they offer that is different from other facilities.
Remember, too, that this is the life decision we all dread and know that you are not alone. I expect these tips will not relieve your unspoken guilt but I do hope they’ll make it easier to deal with – and most importantly, mum, dad or both will feel at home in a loving, caring and communal residence.