From home care to aged care: Understanding the signs that change is needed

Nov 18, 2019
As your parents age the time may come for them to move into an aged care facility. There are some signs to look out for that the time is right. Source: Getty

Your parents may have been receiving help in the home by way of a family carer or a professional for many years, but for some there comes a time when it’s no longer enough.. Aged care is the next step to take for many elderly Aussies whose health has taken a decline, particularly if their safety would be at risk if they were to remain in their own home.

There are often visable signs that change is required and so, with the help of Starts at 60’s team of experts, we’ve pulled together a list of changes to look out for.

Take note of physical and mental changes

While some level of care can be received in the home, as your elderly parents’ health declines the attention required to help them live a safe and healthy life increases. They may tell you they’re coping, but physical and mental signs may prove otherwise.

Dimity Pond, a doctor and a professor of general practice at the University of Newcastle, says you may begin to notice that they’re putting their health at risk. For example, they may forget to turn the stove off,  struggle to manage their food or have trouble managing their medications. Multiple falls is another cause for concern, especially if they’re living alone and don’t have regular check-ups by visiting care workers.

While if you fall from a standing position you might walk away with a sore leg and a few nasty bruises, for your parents it could mean a transition to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center found those aged 70 and above are three times as likely to die following a ground-level fall compared to the younger generations.

But it’s not just the physical changes that should ring alarm bells. Clinical Geropsychologist Nancy Pachana says a change in a person’s behaviour is a warning sign that things are going downhill and they’re not capable of caring for themselves in their home any longer.

“They could be feeling quite confused, have a level of apathy or be really lacking motivation to keep caring for themselves,” she says.

Ken Chauhan, from Anglicare Southern Queensland, says if dementia is present then behavioural changes can be quite common as the disease progresses. He explains that physical outbursts may occur at all hours of the day and night, preventing the carer from getting adequate sleep and in turn limiting their ability to look after their loved one.

“In some cases, dementia can progress to the point where it’s hard to predict how a person is going to react to certain situations, and for one person doing the caring alone, that can become no longer viable,” he says. “With residential care, care is available instantly, at any time.”

Speak to your parent about the move

After noticing a decline in your parents’ mental and physical health the next difficult step is to speak to them about the move to aged care. Packing up and moving away from familiar surrounding can be quite stressful and Dr Pond says gathering a group of family members together to broach the topic will make things easier.

Pond explains that there isn’t really a one-size-fits all method to follow when having the discussion, and that it must be tailored to the person and their ability to understand. However, Pond says all family members involved in the decision must be on the same page, as to not confuse their parents or make them feel uncomfortable.

“It’s a good idea to acknowledge that such a move is hard for them and to point out that they can’t manage by themselves and that the carer can’t manage things any more either,” she explains.

Meanwhile, Pachana suggests mentioning how they will receive better medical care in an aged care facility where staff have more time to focus on their parents’ needs. Although it may be difficult for your parents to hear that their health is declining and they can no longer stay in their own home, Pond says the conversation could also be stressful for adult children.

Pond explains addressing one’s own feelings about the move is also essential throughout the decision-making process.

“It’s important for family to deal with their own guilty about this as well,” she says. “They need to talk to the GP or someone they know well about how they’re feeling. Many people think they should be able to manage, even when it’s a superhuman effort.”

Make the move to aged care easier

Moving into a foreign place and away from the community they know and love can be quite traumatic for the elderly. To make this transition easier, Pachana suggests bringing some items from their home that will help your parent to feel more at ease.

This could be anything from special family photos or a hand-made quilt that holds a lot of importance and meaning to them. As an added caution Pachana says these items should be documented in an inventory with tags attached in case they go missing.

Relationships Australia Victoria suggests even creating a scrapbook for your parent with photographs and stories from throughout their life. Whenever your mum or dad is feeling confused or sad about their new residence they can look through the book and remember what they’ve achieved and loved over the years.

Pond says your parents may also feel more at home in an environment similar to their own house, if possible. For example if they have Italian heritage, you could find a place that serves this style of food.

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Does your mum or dad currently reside in an aged care facility? How did you know the time was right for them to move out of their own home?

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