Aged care at home

A personal view of ageing

[Image: A. Boyd - Unsplash]

My dad turned 80 in September last year and my brother awarded him a ‘Jack of All Trades’ trophy for his lifelong ‘give it a go’ attitude - he’s an accountant by profession, has self-published a couple of books, submitted a painting to the Archibald Prize and most recently gained a scholarship to study Dementia - passing with flying colours, learning heaps and meeting fellow students on line.

He’s an true example of healthy ageing (even with some significant health issues along the way) - keeping active and connected to community, engaged in family life and learning new skills. He’s also the primary carer to my beautiful mum who has Alzheimer’s Disease - a challenging role for anyone – and even with the knowledge of what this disease may bring, he struggles with the day to day application of strategies and techniques (who wouldn’t?!).

Mum has only recently acquired that label but we’ve known for more than ten years that this was to be her journey. The steady decline in her cognitive status is heartbreaking and each day brings new challenges for my Dad. Mostly, he just can’t find anything - Mum’s day is consumed with ‘tidying up’ which means moving clothes or drawer contents around the house. Dentures have disappeared forever, pairs of ear rings remained unmatched for weeks, the new outfit I bought for a special occasion was put somewhere safe and never made it to the event.

Some evenings, Mum gets frustrated, confused and angry because she wants to ‘go home’ or she’s waiting for ‘her father’ to collect her. At the moment, a strategically placed phone call from me can often distract her and she’ll then settle for the evening to watch the news. And whilst all this sounds sad, there are incredible moments of lucidity, insight and my favourites – a mischievous side and pure joy in the moment!

Having managed pretty much on his own, the system doors have opened for Dad with Mum’s formal diagnosis and they can now access a range of supports such as home-based respite, planned activity groups and all the paper work has been completed in the event that she requires residential care.

But in practice, this is a massive transition for Dad (on top of learning to cook and do the laundry and buy presents – all jobs Mum had done in the past!). He said “What’s the use of 3 hours a fortnight of home-based respite, if I have nothing to do? I’m not going to just walk around the shops!” Of course, he will adjust his day and work out what works and what doesn’t. As a family, we will fill some small gaps and help where we can and where he’ll allow it. It’s a journey for us all.

As I write this, I am thinking of the thousands of other people who walk this road and how they have had to adjust their lives to accommodate the system that we have in place. What are the personal compromises that people make as they age, support others who age, promote positive quality of life as we age and where the system may or may not adjust to meet our own personal wishes, expectations and needs?

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will no doubt provide a range of recommendations to improve the system, the culture and viability of the aged care sector. I wonder what impact these changes will have on my parents and what it will mean to those of us who follow.

[Source: Jane Boag, B App Sc (OT), Grad. Dip. Community Health, GAICD, Shared Objectives]