How to start conversations with loved ones about aged care options

How to start conversations with loved ones about aged care options

Great planning requires conversations and input from everyone involved. And that couldn’t be truer when it comes to aged care options.

Such conversations are not only critical to the individuals who’ll be supported by the aged care system, but also for the entire family in getting on the same page regarding how your older loved ones will be cared for, should the need arise.

But how do you start and frame these conversations?   

We’ve asked a couple of experts to share their best advice on talking to your ageing parents and loved ones on considering proactive steps for managing the future.

The first such expert, lawyer Brian Herd, advises us all to move conversations about aged care options to the top of our priority list, rather than waiting until the topic is unavoidable.

“The fact is we’re all living longer, so we have to plan for our futures and the futures of our parents,” says Herd, the author of Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap: Essential Information & Solutions.

“Having worked in elder law for over 20 years, I’ve seen the consequence of not having an aged-care plan and waiting until there’s a crisis to make decisions. Let me tell you, it’s much better to make educated and informed decisions before it gets to crisis point.”

So how do you actually start such conversations?

The key is ‘listening’, and using this to show empathy, patience and respect for the parent or other loved one you’re starting these conversations with.

The below can help

LOOK FOR TRIGGERS

Sometimes it’s a medical emergency that sees children shift to realising their parents might need help, but not always. Often there are minor triggers along the way that can indicate a parent or loved one is not as invincible as we may have previously thought.

Look for these subtle changes – anything from a house not being as cleaned and maintained as it once was to weight loss, increased forgetfulness and anxiety.

These triggers don’t mean it’s time to “swoop in” and sort things out. But rather they may open initial opportunities to gently start some conversations about ageing and the aged care system – if not yet with your parent, then possibly with another sibling or other family member.

START EARLY

Start these conversations early and move into them lightly with patience and care. This is not about having “one conversation”. If there is no key emergency or event, expect these interactions to go for weeks or months as each piece of the overall discussion is processed.

Also beware that these conversations may take courage, as many of us typically still want to avoid anything to do with the topic of ageing. As Brian Herd notes, you may need to find such courage to “suspend your concern” about what you all might see as an unpleasant topic, to start and continue these conversations.

CONSIDER: WHAT WOULD I WANT?

A key first step for these conversations is to put yourself in the place of the parent or loved one. Ask yourself, how would you feel about people talking to you about aged care?

We know from our own recent survey on aged care that the idea of losing control and independence is a key concern people have when thinking about this life stage. So try and empathise with how the person you’re speaking with might be processing the conversation, as well as the fears they may have.

Ask your parent(s) how they are feeling about things, what ideas and preferences they have, and what they think of the different options you already know about and have researched. Listen to what they say back to you.

As Herd says, make sure your parent or loved one is not sidelined in this discussion but is an active contributor.

It may also help to talk about your own attitudes and thoughts about ageing and the idea of losing independence, to show that you’re empathising with the situation and to highlight that it’s a topic everyone needs to consider, not one that’s only particular to them.

BE PREPARED TO REALLY LISTEN

Listening is essential and will make a difference in these conversations. Remember, you are not talking “at” your parent or loved one, rather you’re talking “with” them. While you may have preconceived ideas about what options they should consider or take, this is their life and you need to hear their ideas, concerns, desires and wishes.

Don’t threaten or become aggressive (even passively aggressive) and don’t be tempted to “take over” the decisions or to suggest the decision is ultimately yours.

REFERENCE NEWS EVENTS OR SITUATIONS IMPACTING THOSE THEY KNOW

News events, or ageing-related key life events impacting people your parents or loved ones might know, may provide opportunities to gently start conversations about ageing and aged care options.

For example, what’s happening with cousin Helen, who had a fall and broke her hip, can be a good starting point for discussions and a natural opportunity for you to offer to “get more information on options” and revert back at another time.

GET ON THE SAME PAGE AS OTHER SIBLINGS

Before having any formal conversations, Herd advises siblings to meet and make sure they’re all on the same page. “My biggest piece of advice is for families to put aside any issues, rivalries or jealousies, and come together as a team to get their parents the right financial, legal and lifestyle advice, and to organise enduring power of attorney paperwork,” he says.

Herd agrees it’s important to have brought up the subject casually first before having a more formal discussion and going through a planning agenda. If there is any reluctance or avoidance, a professional might be able to help. “The meeting has to be a combination of information giving, two-way conversations and decision making, so a lawyer who specialises in elder law can facilitate that and focus the discussion,” he explains.

REFRAME THE CONVERSATION AS POSITIVE

Although big, these conversations needn’t be upsetting. Dr Carmel Laragy, an aged care expert at the University of Melbourne, says we should frame future planning as something positive.

“Start by asking, ‘What do you want out of life?’ and ‘What will make your life great?’, and then ‘How can we make that happen?’” she says. “Aged care planning is about supporting people to continue to live full lives.”

Highlight the opportunities available in the different options and what such options can provide. Getting older is a privilege – and with the right planning and support, it can be a joy. 

DO YOUR RESEARCH AND OFFER RESEARCH SUPPORT

In all life planning situations, we know being forewarned is forearmed. When families do their research to understand the aged care system, better outcomes can be achieved. For the majority of us, who would prefer to stay at home instead of moving to a care facility, there are options to understand and consider. Home care packages offered through different package providers give people the opportunity to get at-home support and even self-manage their funding to get help with cleaning, cooking, personal care, socialising, shopping and necessary home improvements.

“People are much happier when they have the control to manage their own life, and the right physical and emotional support for their individual needs,” says Dr Laragy. “It’s worth investing a bit of time initially working out the system and having these conversations about the different options.”

There is so much to consider and take in when it comes to the aged care system. So do the initial research in order to start these conversations, but be prepared to keep doing more research as you explore questions and options with your parent(s). 

TALK TO YOUR OWN KIDS

Once you’ve spoken to your parents about their plans, it’s a smart idea to talk to your own kids about your wishes. At 68, Herd has already spoken to his adult children about his plans for later in life if he loses his independence.

“You’re never too young to start thinking about these things – and filling out an enduring power of attorney document,” he says. “Don’t wait until you’re laying in a hospital bed. Do it now.”

Mable is a website enabling older people, as well as those supporting them, to find and choose their own team of care and support workers. The Mable team believe that everyone should have options when they age and is all about positive ageing. To find out more about Mable, visit Mable.com.au 

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