Finding good care – a journey

The rocky road to finding good aged care – and the book that was written by a West Pennant Hills couple as a result 

Our book Happily Ever After: A Guide to the Best Aged Care for the People You Love is the guide we wish we’d had during those years as being a carer for someone who’s vulnerable, aged, or needy is an enormous task. The complexity of the issues that come up and the need to be on top of practical, legal, financial and medical matters takes your time and energy during the day and keeps you awake at night. So although I’m a lawyer and my husband a Professor of Accounting, we frequently found ourselves feeling unprepared for decisions we had to make. We made some mistakes along the way, which is why we decided to write our book. Here are just a few….

Mistakes – we’ve made a few

• We didn’t think ahead and we didn’t urge Kim to do the same.

• We didn’t discuss with her the need to appoint an enduring guardian to make healthcare decisions on her behalf, so when she became incapacitated, the hospital social worker applied to have the State Government’s Public Guardian make decisions for her. But the staff in the Public Guardian’s office made decisions without once meeting her or visiting the facility she was in. I was so shocked that I applied for and was appointed the role of Guardian.

• We left it too late to organise home help to de-clutter and clean Kim’s home. By the time we tried to do it, Kim’s dementia made her suspicious and unwelcoming of strangers like cleaners coming into her home. Without help and monitoring, she could no longer live safely by herself.

• We didn’t discuss with her needing residential aged care facility in the future so he was placed in an aged care facility close to her home whereas we, her only visitors, were two and a half hours away.

• When she was hospitalised, we weren’t sufficiently forceful when we feared that she was being considered to be in less urgent need than others because she was old, frail, and unable to advocate for herself.

How to avoid these mistakes

Plan ahead: don’t stick your head in the sand as it only causes greater problems down the track: discuss the future and get necessary documents in place like wills, powers of attorney, appointments of enduring guardian, advance care directives.

Think of the various care options and what’s affordable. Have the difficult conversation with your loved one. Most people don’t go into residential aged care, but are looked after by their families, with the help of outside services. You can arrange services to help with home modifications, cleaning, gardening, showering and giving medication, escorting to medical appointments , shopping, meals, laundry.

Could your relative move into your home with you, if modifications were carried out or a granny flat added? Would they be able to live independently if they moved to a smaller place, or one without stairs, or in an independent living unit?

You also need to understand the system (and that has changed a lot in the last two years as the result of the government’s realisation that it’s cheaper to support older people living at home, rather than in a residential facility.) For example your relative will need to have an ACAT Assessment by a local Aged Care Assessment Team – a Government-accredited team of health professionals – before they’re entitled to many services, and that can take many months.

You need to get informed, and identify the available choices. Because in the story of your life, caring for the people you love is one of the most important chapters.

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