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Festive season a time to make important decisions

The festive season can be as overwhelming as it is merry. Often it is a time when family members catch up for the first time in months.

Don’t shy away from the difficult yet important conversations with your loved ones this festive season. (Source: Shutterstock)
Don’t shy away from the difficult yet important conversations with your loved ones this festive season. (Source: Shutterstock)

Others will spend it alone, but possibly not by choice. It may be joyful, but not always. Many of us see elderly relatives we haven’t seen all year and  may be confronted by their frailty.

It is worrying and distressing to accept that someone who was once vital may soon need help to manage their daily needs. Difficult decisions may need to be made.

In the first few months of the new year, residential aged care homes and placement agencies will be busy with queries and applications for rooms. Where a home care package has been assigned, families may have to get busy finding a provider that can deliver the services their loved one needs for living independently in their own home for as long as possible. They call it aged care season.

So what are the signs that your parents or loved one may be struggling at home?

Vagueness, weight loss, spoiled food and unpaid bills are just a few. Social isolation due to poor mobility or lack of transport may also be a concern.

Once you recognise that an elderly person needs assistance, you can start a conversation about what can be done to help keep that person in their own home.

If residential aged care looks to be on the cards, then look for the right home early on before any medical crisis occurs so that your family member can be engaged in the final decision and make an informed choice.

An open discussion with family members can help children learn what their parents want and may help to minimise disputes among the family at a time that can quickly become emotional and stressful.

The following considerations may help you get things started.

Eligibility

Anyone needing subsidised Government care, either in their own home or in an aged care facility - for respite or permanent accommodation – needs an assessment by an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT or ACAS in Victoria).

That visit can be organised through the myagedcare.gov.au website or by calling 1800 200 422. The assessment team will provide a report on the required level of care. Every care provider needs this assessment before they can offer home support or a residential bed.

Shortlist services  

If residential care is required, you should think about what is important in deciding where to live. It may be location, being close to family and friends, amenities and the health care needs. A website like AgedCareGuide.com.au can help you browse through and compare your options.

Any list you prepare will help you develop a shortlist of potential services which you might like to contact or visit. Check the fees and costs required for accommodation and ongoing services to ensure it is affordable.

If you find a preferred place or places, you can complete an application form. This alerts the facility of your interest in a room if something comes up. You can always say no if you are not quite ready.

Fees and charges

Reading up about the level and range of fees that may be applicable can be overwhelming. How much you have to pay for home or residential care may depend on the service you choose, your assessable assets and your assessable income. Accommodation costs are set by individual aged care facilities, with prices published on the MyAgedCare website.

If your assets and income are low enough to qualify as a low-means client before the move, the government may subsidise your accommodation and regulate how much the resident pays. Everyone pays a basic care fee which covers food, laundry and care. Depending on your income and assets, Centrelink will determine whether you need to make a further contribution.

Estate Planning

Family get togethers are often a good time to discuss estate plans, including whether a person’s will is in place, up to date and correctly reflects their wishes. With dementia a leading factor behind the need for care services, it is likely that financial and other decisions will need to be delegated to someone else.

This is easier if an enduring power of attorney (and guardianship) is in place. It is important to have the appropriate powers in place before a person has lost legal capacity, as once capacity has been lost, it will be too late to set up the powers and you will need to meet with the Guardianship Tribunal.

Christmas is a time to enjoy with family and make lasting memories, but don’t shy away from the difficult yet important conversations with your loved ones.

Bina Brown

Bina Brown is a director of Canberra aged care solutions company Third Age Matters. With a background in financial journalism and a Certificate III in aged care, Bina is sympathetic to the complexities and emotional roller coaster many families face when it comes to finding suitable care for a loved one

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