The human dynamic of placing a loved one into residential aged care

The human dynamic of placing a loved one into residential aged care

Through our experiences with clients we have learned that the aged care journey is synonymous with a unique human dynamic. Entry to an aged care facility is associated with failing health, and is often precipitated by an ill-health event which triggers the move while creating a sense of urgency. The person (and their family) has little opportunity to plan for the move and has to make important decisions whilst trying to negotiate a complex and apparently impersonal aged care system. Residents and family members are faced with a range of feelings associated with a big change. Traditionally they and those around them, respond in a rational way, trying to sort through the information and data in the government system. But this approach fails to acknowledge the human experience. You simply can’t solve an emotional problem with rational thought. Therefore, the starting point on the journey is recognising and acknowledging the human experience of the people involved.

Based on our experience, we have uncovered five forces which drive the human dynamic and create a complex set of emotions that make the process difficult to navigate.

The Human Dynamic

People approach us because their elderly parents’ health has declined to the point where they need a professional care provider. In many cases, they have been admitted to a hospital who has arranged for an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) assessment to determine their needs moving forward. Improvements in hygiene and medication have increased our life expectancy. But a lifetime of gradual wear and tear results in several systems getting to the point of critical breakdown at the same time, generally in our mid to late 80’s. It is not unusual for people entering residential aged care to be suffering from two or more medical problems at the same time. Over the last few years we have worked with clients suffering a range of medical issues. As these types of illnesses are diagnosed, it’s common for family members to be advised by health care personnel that their parents are no longer able to care of themselves, news that is often shared simultaneously with a deadline for when the patient needs to move from the hospital into a long term aged care facility. This creates a sense of urgency as family members scramble to find a suitable place for their aging parents while dealing with the emotions that come as a result of reaching this stage of life. Once a facility does offer a spot, family members often have a short window of time to make a final decision. In fact, sometimes the family has mere hours to decide, a ridiculously short period of time when you’re talking about the health and quality of life for someone you love.

To complicate things, for many family members, the answer is contingent on getting satisfactory answers to a list of questions and concerns that can alter the decision:

  • What is the best way to find a residential aged care facility that provides the best care for mum or dad?
  • Can we afford residential care for mum or dad?
  • What is the complete set of costs of residential aged care?
  • Does the government provide funding assistance?
  • Should we sell or keep the family home?
  • Do we have to pay the accommodation deposit in full?
  • Is the accommodation deposit refundable?
  • What are the ongoing costs?
  • How should I structure my personal affairs to afford the ongoing payments?
  • What is the impact of our decisions on mum or dad’s social security entitlements?
  • Do we really have to complete the Centrelink Assets and Income assessment?

Over the last few years we have helped hundreds of clients get into residential aged care. Most of the people approaching us, whether the aging person them self, a spouse, or the direct descendants, share they are struggling to navigate the system. They describe it as impersonal, cold, mechanistic, complex and patronising, saying that often the role-players in the system make and enforce decisions on their behalf. They express an understandable range of emotions including shock, confusion, panic, hyperventilation, distress, worry, sleeplessness, concern, and a general feeling of being completely overwhelmed.

Moving a loved one into aged care is never going to be easy because there are so many emotions to deal with. Children express guilt over not being able to care for their loved one personally, and the patients themselves have to face their mortality, their loss of independence, fear, and feelings of abandonment. Moving into this life stage requires mourning the loss of the life you knew, the home you once had, control of your body, and a loss of independence, all heavy emotions that add to the stress of the decision. Without a doubt placing a loved one in aged care is a deeply emotional journey.

Follow Chris Nothling:

Aged Care Financial Adviser

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