Approaching an ageing loved one about entering residential aged care can be daunting. Many older people have a fear of being ‘sent to an old age home’ and most of the time they want to continue living in their own home – because that is where it feels familiar and safe to them. But there will come a time where you may notice someone you care about reach a point where they are struggling to take care of themselves, or their home, like they used to.
Often the home situation can start to be unsafe for them too, without constant supervision, as the risk of injury or falls can be life threatening. If providing constant care within their home isn’t an option, then moving to residential aged care probably is…and this is where the prospect of broaching ‘that conversation’ may be necessary.
Firstly, it’s important to help them understand that entering aged care isn’t the end of the life they know! Rather, it’s an opportunity for a new chapter in their lives – one where they no longer need to worry about day to day concerns, where they can learn new skills, make new friendships, be entertained, enjoy home cooked meals and still go out when they want to. They can live a healthy, safe and independent life within their familiar local community.
Know the signs to look for
For many older people, admitting they need help feels embarrassing, and they worry it will lead to a loss of independence and control over their own life.
You know your loved one, so be sure to pay close attention to their appearance as well as their home. If you start to notice changes to the way they normally do things – maybe you’ve noticed they don’t cook much anymore, or they are leaving the backyard overgrown for months, they may be wearing creased or unwashed clothes, showering less, or keeping an unusually untidy house. These are all important clues.
Approach the subject early
The earlier you begin to talk to your loved one about their plans as they get older, the better you can help them mentally and practically prepare for the impending changes. Bring them information, take them to see some homes, even book them in for short respite stays in those homes so they can experience life there first hand. Help them start to sort through their belongings and paperwork so they don’t feel quite so overwhelmed when the move comes.
Keep them involved in the decision
When so much is changing, it is important your loved one feels they are still in control of their own life. Be sure to keep them involved in as many decisions as is practical. Providing them with choices allows them to retain their sense of independence. Making important life decisions without their consent will never go down well, regardless of how good your intentions are.
Make it clear from the start that you are their advocate and you will support them in any way you can. Remember to be their partner, not their parent.
Choose the right time and place
To ensure your loved one doesn’t feel rushed or pressured into making a decision, it is best to try and start the conversation in a relaxed environment. Pick a time when you can sit down with them over a tea or coffee, and away from any distractions or people they may not feel comfortable discussing the subject with.
Looking through old photos or reminiscing on old memories are both great ways to encourage a conversation about their life. As they reflect on fond memories and experiences, you may find it easier to begin a conversation about what they have in mind. Be sure to really listen to their answers and let them know they are loved and will always be an important part of your life.
Be respectful, patient and give them time to process
Above all, approach the subject with positivity, respect and compassion. Focus the conversation around maintaining and increasing their independence and enjoyment of their life.
Once you’ve given them the information they need, give them time to honestly think about it and consider their options. The last thing you want to do is make them feel pressured into making a decision.
Be patient. Moving into care is a big decision and not one that anyone should feel rushed into. Reassure them that transitioning into a residential aged care community should not mean giving up what they love. The right care should enhance their lifestyle, not detract from it.
Experience life through respite
Once you’ve had the conversation, a good next step might be for them to go and experience what life is actually like within a residential aged care community through a respite stay. This is a wonderful way to see if they like the feel of the home, and it can give them (and you!) a well-deserved break in the process.