If you’ve identified some signs of change in mum, dad or an older relative and decided that it’s more than just an “off” week, you’ve probably considered how to provide them with some extra help at home.
But before you can do much more than research the options, the situation requires a talk with your loved one – and that’s often one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have.
Having tackled working life, a partnership or marriage, childrearing, retirement and no doubt many of the other important life moments, it’s usually difficult for a parent or older relative to accept that this phase of life may be one they need assistance with. Hearing that you’ve noticed they’re having trouble going about daily life like they used to can be confronting for your loved one, and they may deny they need assistance.
As one Starts at 60 reader recalls, it took 12 months for their elderly mother to agree to receive at-home help.
As Anglicare’s lead consultant in the aged care and disability reform team, Gemma Buckley has a wealth of experience in this part of the home-care journey. She acknowledges that there’s no all-encompassing script to make the conversation about a loved one’s declining abilities easier, because it very much depends on the individuals involved.
But she does have some helpful tips on how you can introduce the topic of in-home assistance, with the aim of agreeing on some actions that will benefit your beloved relative.
How to broach this tricky topic
Buckley says one way of opening a chat about having help at home is to start with an acknowledgement that we’re all ageing and that someday most of us will need some help to keep doing the things we need and want to do.
It’s a casual, non-confrontational beginning that can lead in to a talk about where, ideally, your family member would like to age and how they anticipate being able to do that.
Buckley says that most people she meets through her work at Anglicare are keen to remain in their home – a logical choice if it’s feasible, because research has associated ‘ageing in place’ with greater longevity and a higher quality of life.
If you’ve established that continuing to live at home is a priority for your loved one, you can then look together at what actions will make this possible and tailor a solution that both of you are comfortable with. Buckley notes that it’s important to emphasise that home care isn’t a “one size fits all” approach, but one that is designed and scheduled to suit the individual needs and wants of the person receiving care.
“In a case where there are unmanaged health conditions like diabetes, we might suggest that a nurse comes in twice a week to assist with monitoring blood sugar levels,” she says by way of example.
It may be as simple as suggesting that your relative accept help from home care specialists in everyday tasks such as going to the supermarket or doing the laundry. (Home care can cover a wide range of support, from assisting the attendance of appointments or social events to cleaning and cooking.)
Buckley highlights that setting up a relationship with professional care providers before serious care is required is ideal, because it allows you to call on a familiar support network should your loved one’s care requirements suddenly increase through, say, a fall or an illness.
Another non-confrontational way to ease the conversation is to explain that introducing occasional home help would be a benefit to you – perhaps because it would ease your worries about your loved one.
When the conversation isn’t received well
Having the home-care conversation well before more intensive care is needed is also important because it may take time to overcome the resistance your loved one may have to receiving help.
“This can be due to a generational attitude,” Buckley says. “[Our parent’s] generation are very proud that they’ve worked hard, done everything themselves and they’ve never asked for any help.”
As one reader told Starts at 60, “sometimes it’s hard to ask for help when you’ve always been independent.”
Older Australians are often uncomfortable with inviting strangers into their home to provide services, as this can be something they see as an admission of defeat or failure, Buckley adds. Understanding and acknowledging these feelings, rather than brushing them aside, is a good way to approach the conversation, she says.
To break down some of those boundaries, highlight in your conversation that exploring in-home care is not about admitting defeat or failure or about being a burden to others.
Instead, it’s a discussion about what your loved one can still do, and how they can use the assistance that’s available to build up their abilities and retain their independence. Seeking home care after a health scare can be a good example of this, as Buckley explains.
“Home care services can retrain, rehabilitate and teach new skills in how to manage a health condition so the person can remain as independent as possible in their home,” she adds.
In challenging situations, Buckley suggests calling on someone whose opinion the person trusts, in order to assist your loved one with their decision.
“Sometimes family relationships are complicated, so a doctor or family friend with whom the person has had a long-standing relationship, may be able to offer valuable and trusted advice,” she says.
If you find that you and your family are really struggling to have the conversation about care with your loved one, Anglicare’s Concierge service can also make this process easier.
A Concierge team member will meet you and your loved one to talk about the lifestyle that needs to be supported, then work with both of you to come up with a plan for home care, at no obligation. Buckley describes it as a very open conversation about enabling a person to live the best life possible, with no pressure to accept the assistance suggested.
It’s important to remember that the choice to accept assistance is, in the end, your loved one’s decision to make. However, accepting assistance is not an admission of defeat but rather a way of ensuring your loved one lives as independently as possible.
As one reader explains, “[it’s] enabled me to continue living alone in my home and improved my quality of life”.
Have you had this conversation with a loved one? Were they receptive to the prospect of seeking assistance?
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.
Anglicare’s Help at Home services support your loved ones to live independently in their own home. We understand that every situation is different and often families need help to navigate the Aged Care system to arrange the best care for the people you love.