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Raising the topic of aged care with a loved one can be a difficult conversation. While your loved one may wish to remain as independent as possible, you have seen their health suffering and are worried about how well they can continue taking care of themselves.

There’s a lot of emotions involved along with the logistics of care assessments and financials, so the whole topic can seem overwhelming. Many people also see aged care as a ‘last resort’ and a place to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, this can stop us from talking about aged care as an option until it becomes an inevitability.

Trying to navigate the aged care landscape when you’re going through a health crisis is a stressful experience, so taking the time to talk about the need for extra care before it’s time to act is a great way to have more options and time to find the right place that both you and your loved one are happy with.

When you should have the aged care conversation

Neil Mellor, mental health social worker at Altogether Psychology Services, believes that the aged care conversation is one you should have sooner rather than later, particularly when making future plans.

“It’s wise to bring up the issue about long-term care before events take over and to choose a time when you can have a relaxed and considered conversation,” says Neil.

“There might be some signals when it’s an appropriate time to bring up the topic with an elderly family member. It may be that their memory starts to fail, they are having issues when driving or you’ve witnessed a decline in health or they are not coping as well as they used to.”

How to bring up the topic of aged care

By noticing these signals, you can use them as a way to start a conversation.

Tell them what you’ve noticed and that you’re here to support them. You could also ask them how they are coping and if there is anything that they’re starting to find harder.

According to Neil, this can start a larger conversation about what their ideal scenario would be as they get older and their care needs increase. He also suggests another way to broach the issue is to talk to your family member’s GP or other service providers about any concerns you have.

“The family GP is a good person to raise the issue with, particularly around issues such as the ability to drive or when changes are noted within social activities such as stopping doing things or changes to routines,” says Neil.

“This can start you on the road to making longer term plans with support from trusted professionals.”

Many older Australians wish to stay in their own homes as they age and the Government has put more funds into home care packages to help make that happen. These government-funded packages are available to help with cleaning and transport up to higher level packages that will help with greater care needs within their home. This could be a good first step that can help your loved one start to feel comfortable about receiving extra help, while they still get to stay in their own home.

Benefits of talking about aged care before you need it

Neil says the benefits of talking about aged care when you first start noticing changes, rather than waiting for a crisis, is that you are all in a better position to plan and choose options that suit you

“What I’ve seen both from a professional experience and from our own experience with a relative is that it takes the pressure off deciding what’s going to take place. You can start planning for aged care, rather than going into it in a crisis situation.

“Even though it’s a difficult conversation, it is one that’s much better to have when an elderly person has capacity and has choices about the level of care and the nature of care they might like to go into.

“Doing it this way means that levels of independence can be assessed. Sometimes that’s done formally from getting an aged care team involved or sometimes that’s done informally just through a GP or seeing a gerontologist.”

Discussions with other experts such as financial planners and solicitors can also take place and you can set up a plan for financial decision making such as selling the family home when the time comes. This can help your loved one and yourself feel more in control and informed so you’re able to make better decisions when the time comes to downsize or move into an aged care community or nursing home.

“The issue is one that needs to be addressed as there are all sorts of things like Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Directives and issues surrounding capacity that come into play and it’s much harder to deal with these issues under stress,” says Neil.

Managing emotions and differences in opinion

Discussions about aged care can often become an emotional minefield with different members of the family all having differing opinions on what’s best.

“People’s desire to keep their independence is sometimes an issue that gets in the way of clarity on what is needed to support a person as they get older. There are many options but I think to raise the issue in a considered way in a relaxed environment is one way to keep calmness over the situation,” says Neil.

By having open discussions, all family members can be aware of your loved ones wants and needs and can put these at the centre of the decision-making process, rather than their own assumptions and expectations. Neil suggests a professional may be able to help you have these conversations if there’s any conflict or difficulties.

“We suggest that people consult a health professional such as a psychologist, counsellor or a social worker who may be able to facilitate the conversation with family members and help people to process the issues involved and look at what steps can be taken.”

Next steps

While having a discussion is a great starting point, it’s important to follow up and put a plan in action – even if that’s to leave it for six months and chat about it again. A good first step is to start looking into the home care packages available and start comparing aged care options in your area. This will help you understand the system and what would suit your family member best as their care needs increase.

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Belinda Peters
Belinda brings more than 17 years experience in journalism to her role as Seasons Digital Content Writer. As our blog editor, Belinda will take the confusion out of aged care with entertaining and informative stories from across the aged care industry and our Seasons communities.