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Family Forum: Elderly care

Sensitive issue of elderly care in families

QUESTION:

How can families and carers be supported in decision making around moving their elderly loved ones in to care facilities when family members are at odds with the best way forward? How does medical and psychological autonomy of the elder come into consideration in these matters?

ANSWER:

This can be a difficult decision for families and their elderly relative. Sometimes the elderly person will come to the decision by themselves that they need to move into residential care facility. Other times it can be a difficult decision to leave a place they have lived in for many years, along with all the memories that their home represents. They may have friends, neighbours and family nearby, and moving to a care facility may mean moving away from these connections. It also depends on the health of the elderly person. The more health problems this person has, the more family and carers are involved. This can mean a great deal of time can be spent in caring for the elderly person, which can put a strain on the relationship between the carer and the elderly person. By entering a residential care facility, this transfers care to the residential facility staff, taking the pressure off family members and carers.

Conflict between family members is remarkably common, especially between siblings who disagree on what is best course for their elderly parents. Sometimes it can be helpful to involve a third party in negotiations for support with the difficult conversations. The Legal Services Commission and Relationships Australia also offer elder mediation services and host family meetings where loved ones can gather and discuss their respective needs and expectations for care.

Talking to the elderly person’s GP is often a good place to start. They can give advice on issues such as how to obtain an ACAT (Aged Care Assessment), which is required for aged care including residential, respite or home care; what is involved in applying for a place; and where to get advice about the costs involved in entering a facility.

Some facilities offer respite care. This can also be a good way to test the water and see whether a particular facility is a good fit for the elderly person. They can try a short stay and see if the facility suits their needs and desires. Others hold open days or provide opportunities for inspections.

It is important to obtain legal advice, making sure there is a valid Will in place and Power of Attorney assigned for the handling of an individual’s personal and financial affairs, in the event that they are unable to take care of such matters themselves. Another document that is important to have in place is an Advanced Care Directive, which governs a person’s wishes for medical care and treatment.

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