There is a common belief in our society that the elderly prefer to remain in their own home rather than live in aged care.
While this is an understandable presumption, and choosing to stay within your own home as you age is a genuine and legitimate choice, it’s not always the best option when our health declines and everyday activities become almost impossible.
The reality is even with a Level 2 Home Care Package (HCP), which includes about 4-5 hours per week of care, many people are spending day after day at home alone. For adult children helping Mum or Dad navigate aged care, it’s important to make sure you’re not assuming your parents will be better off or happier at home.
In my experience, it’s essential we show people all of their options before they make a decision. Either way at least they know what they’re saying yes or no too.
I help hundreds of families navigate the aged care system every year and one thing I frequently come across is elderly people who are scared to leave their own house as they’re unsteady on their feet, or they’re terrified when someone knocks on the door.
When people experience cognitive decline, some can also experience incidences of paranoia. This is particularly the case if they feel isolated. If the neighbour no longer pops around and friends have passed away or no longer visit, it can become very lonely and in turn home can become a scary place to be.
When we talk about home, we often forget to talk about social networks. Home is much more than bricks and mortar. Home is also about our community, friends, work and hobbies. In fact, loneliness is one of the biggest causes of health decline for the elderly.
If Dad has been on his own for a few years since Mum passed or the neighbour that always used to check in on him has passed away, then maybe a community-style living arrangement will be a positive move. Independent retirement villages or aged care homes will ensure more social interaction and a sense of security knowing people are close by.
Communal living is important for our wellbeing and when the elderly are interacting with their peers, aged care staff and visitors, it can provide a great boost to their overall health.
If you’re concerned about whether your parents should continue to stay at home, have a look around at the quality of the home to get an indication of how they’re coping.
Is the bed made? Is there food in the pantry? Is the food in date and being eaten?
I frequently meet elderly people who are eating nothing but toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which is unlikely to meet their nutritional needs.
By contrast, an aged care home would provide three hot, nutritious meals daily, which are designed by a dietitian who understands your parents’ nutritional needs and are most often cooked onsite by a chef. I know if I was in that situation which option I would choose for myself.
There are of course elderly people who are genuinely happier at home. In my experience, these tend to be people who do not require 24/7 nursing care to ensure their physical and cognitive health and have access to weekly help such as a home care service.
They’re also likely to have a strong connection to their community, have neighbours they chat to daily or are active in a church group or gardening club.
If you feel your parents are unlikely to tick these boxes, then they may in fact be happier in an aged care home. However, this is still never an easy conversation to have.
If you directly ask ‘do you want to move into an aged care home?’ it’s natural to have an immediate negative reaction. When it’s phrased like that, the answer is going to be no. Despite the benefits of aged care, it’s still a big change to consider and people are often resistant to change.
Instead, focus on finding out what your parent wants and needs and then find suitable options they might consider. You could ask questions such as:
Maybe also suggest going to have a look at some accommodation options so you can talk about them down the track.
Whatever your situation, remember to take the time to find out what the options are and if they will work for your loved one. Everyone is different. Your parents’ aged care needs should be about what works for their situation and not what we assume they want or need.