If recent visits to your mum or dad have you concerned that perhaps your previously home-proud or well-groomed parent isn’t taking as good care of themselves as they used to, you’re not alone.
Jill Wiese, an aged care expert at the iconic Queensland aged care provider Blue Care, says it often takes only small changes in a loved one’s behaviour for close family members to pick up on the fact that all’s not right. In fact, she had the same experience herself.
“With my mum, I’d visit and there’d be dishes in the sink; they would be stacked up but never done, so my sister and I would do the dishes, then we’d go back the next week and there’d be another week’s worth of dishes there,” she recalls. “It’s those subtle things that you begin to see, and you’ll know, because it’s family.”
Perhaps you’ve noticed chores aren’t done, your father’s not showering as often as he used to or your mother’s forgetting to take her regular tablets? These can be signs it might be time to look into getting them some help at home.
Home care services play a vital role in helping senior Australians to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible and those services can be tailored to suit the precise needs and wants of your loved one.
But first you need to know whether you’re merely seeing your older family member on an ‘off day’ or your concerns for them are justified.
Wiese, who as an integrated services manager at Blue Care, the home of the beloved Blue Nurses, manages the delivery of home care services to Australians who need assistance to live independently, says the only way to come to a conclusion about the seriousness of the situation is to assess it over a few visits.
While a pile of dirty dishes or an unmade bed could be down to a bad day, Wiese explains that most adult children realise relatively quickly that the changes at their parent’s home aren’t a one-off.
“The first time [you notice changes] might heighten your awareness that something’s different, the next time you visit it might be something else,” she says. “You start to see things that aren’t done, like mum’s been pretty fussy in the house but you’re noticing that the vacuuming’s not done and there’s a bit of dust around.”
Wiese says other common signs that, if seen repeatedly, indicate help at home might be right for your loved one can include: forgetting to take medication, not eating or failing to restock the fridge, unexplained weight loss, a decline in personal hygiene standards or a disinterest in changing into fresh clothes.
If these experiences ring true for you and your family, it’s important to speak to your mother or father about the possibility of accessing home care services for them, with the support of government subsidies that reduce the cost of such services for Australians aged 65-plus (or over 50 if your parent identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person).
Broaching the topic is a task that needs to be dealt with delicately, though, as the suggestion of help may leave your parents feeling as though they are being stripped of their independence or embarrassed that they’re no longer seen to be coping.
Karin Higgs helps to care for her elderly parents, who are both in their 90s and receive home care services.
Her parents were initially reluctant to access the subsidised home care services available to them but Higgs, 61, says it was the promise of that she would be able to spend more quality time with them, rather than using that time to do their chores, that finally convinced her parents to accept help with their housework.
“Once a fortnight they get a little bit of assistance in their house,” she says. “It took a bit of encouraging to get them to accept help, because they figured they could do it themselves.
“They’re proud people, and they’re used to doing it themselves, but I’d say to Dad, ‘well, I can have quality time now with you and Mum, we can sit and do things if you accept a little bit of help’. And that’s how we managed to get somebody to come in.”
Higgs, from Bribie Island in Queensland, wants her parents to remain in their own home, where they have friendly neighbours who look out for them, for as long as possible.
“They’ve been there for 30, 40 years and it’s full of memories for them,” she explains. “We want to keep them at home for as long as possible, in their own environment, where they feel so comfortable.”
You can hear more from Karin Higgs on her family’s home care journey here.
Wiese says that just as some older Australians are distressed by the prospect of receiving home care, some adult children feel guilty that they can’t provide all of the assistance their parent needs. But she underlines the fact that Blue Care’s services are designed to complement existing family arrangements, not replace them.
“It can get to breaking point for the adult children, as they usually are either working or assisting with their own grandchildren,” she says. “They cease to be the child and take on the responsibilities of a carer.
“Now, we wouldn’t take that away from them, so if, say, they want to be the ones taking mum to the doctor or they wanted to be involved in some other way, they can be. But they don’t have to do the showering, for example.
“When I had my dad living with me, I didn’t really want to shower him, so we got services in to shower him a few days a week, and I could then be the daughter. It preserved my relationship with my dad, without having to be the carer.”
Ensuring regular conversation with clients’ families is also important to Blue Care, Wiese says, because carers track their clients’ needs and can be the first to alert adult children that a change or increase in services is required.
Blue Care’s services are also designed to ensure your parents can continue to live their preferred lifestyle as independently as possible.
“Home care isn’t about taking this away from you,” Wiese says she tells clients. “This is to assist you with the things that you can’t do, so that you can continue to do the things that you can do.”
There are many little ways Blue Care’s carers make sure clients continue to feel independent; for example, carers can help with purchasing groceries, but leave your loved one to arrange them in the cupboards as they normally would, or let the client do the laundry but assist with the hanging out on the line, which can be difficult for older people with back, shoulder or arm conditions.
“We like to build relationships with our clients,” Wiese says. “Carers can come in and vacuum or do whatever it is the client wants to have done, but over time it becomes a conversation about what the client needs at that time, the mystery of having home care goes away and it all settles down.”
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services advice.
As one of Queensland’s leading in-home, retirement living and aged care providers Blue Care can deliver tailored support for you or your loved ones. With expert advice and over 65 years’ experience, Blue Care will make things simpler, so you and your family can continue to live life your way.