One of the most difficult obstacles to navigate on the aged care journey is often taking the first step!
I remember the beginning of my parents' aged care journey being a period of reluctance and increased anxiety. My parents remained fiercely independent even when Dad's health started to deteriorate and Mum was the main carer. They were in their late 80s and early 90s and Mum was looking exhausted. But their united response when asked how were things going was always ‘thanks but we are coping well!'. This isn’t uncommon, when someone asks ‘how are you’ isn’t our automatic response, more often than not, ‘fine thanks’.
Many older people feel asking for help could lead to a loss of independence and be the first step that would erode their ability to remain living independently. They are often also concerned about their privacy and feel anxious about trusting a stranger in their home. I remember a conversation with one of the participants at a Live Well Longer seminar telling me how frustrated she was with her father who was resisting all attempts to arrange home support through a local care provider. She said she finally realised that one of his main concerns was he didn't want the branded care provider car pulling up in his driveway letting his neighbours know he wasn't coping.
However, research shows that the right support at the right time can often extend a person's ability to live independently. Taking that first step sooner than later is the best approach. Starting support services when only a low level of support is needed may lessen the anxiety when a higher level of care is required or as care needs become more complex, and could perhaps even avert a crisis in the future.
The Commonwealth Home Support Programme, funded by the Australian Government, provides a range of entry-level aged care services for older people who need assistance to keep living independently at home and in their community. Even though my Mum was adamant, at this stage, that she was coping, she agreed to have an assessment for home care eligibility.
It was really worthwhile being with Mum during the visit by the assessment officer. During her visit we discussed all the possibilities for support and encouraged Mum to consider where help might make a difference. Mum agreed help with some of the more intensive housework duties would ensure she had more energy and time to care for Dad as his needs increased. Mum chose a service provider that she heard positive stories about from her friends and family and commenced the service. She was initially a little apprehensive about having a stranger in the house but soon became very appreciative of the support provided and enjoyed interacting with the visiting staff.
Navigating this first step had been the most difficult, over time as their care needs increased Mum and Dad were very comfortable with re-visiting their care plan and considering different services that enabled them to continue to live independently.
The Live Well Longer resources When do I start planning – how do I recognise the signs?, Navigating Government Subsidised Home Care and Considerations When Choosing a Home Care Provider provide practical information tips and strategies for people taking their first step on their aged care journey.
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