Planning for Later Older Age

Author: Viv Allanson, CEO Maroba Aged Care Facility

One issue I hear repeatedly is the difficulty older people have learning about, and accessing all kinds of services and support. The result is that older people experience unsupported decline and have difficulty negotiating care either in the home or residential aged care. This is especially challenging for older people with no support network.

Many people end up in Emergency Departments with little choice about their future because they may have never taken steps to be informed about health prevention strategies or stages of support. Denial is sending older people into care prematurely and in undesirable circumstances.

Given the long-standing negative messaging surrounding ageing and, more recently, about residential Aged Care, it is no surprise that many of us stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the future will somehow be different for us. Whilst this reality is challenging, there are many steps individuals, families and health care professionals can take to help.

Talking about it is your first step. What are the things that concern you about your health, mobility, cognitive capacity, location, financial means, and support network. Having a realistic perspective of these matters will definitely help you navigate the now. Now is where we all ought to start to initiate some simple but powerful health prevention and life changing strategies.

You don’t have to belong to a Gym to start an effective exercise regime that could literally add years to your life and certainly life to your years. Start with short walks and slowly build up, add in some weight bearing to help keep your bones strong. Exercise programs that include aerobic, strength and balance components will add years of independent living, prevent falls and fractures and improve quality of life.

Dietary changes can make a mountain of difference to overall wellbeing and may even prevent Type II diabetes and heart disease. A well-balanced diet can be supported by your health care professional to best manage your particular health status. Don’t forget that older people need more protein than younger people to ensure muscle health.

There are so many issues that we can work on to better prepare us, and it is not just all about our physical health. Our overall wellbeing is key to enjoying a full life. Loneliness can be a real concern to many of us, especially as we have lived through the many lockdowns and isolation orders throughout the pandemic. Our mental health is unique, and it is important to share how you are feeling with a trusted health professional, family member or friend to ensure you get the support you need. Timely Intervention or support can help you look to the future with hope and realistic expectations. This will make planning a more enjoyable prospect, so don’t go it alone.

What about the physical environment in which you live? Are there barriers that prevent your full mobility and functioning in the home? Can modifications be made early to prevent disability and dependence, or do you need to choose a new home to meet your changing needs while you still have the emotional well being to cope with such a move.

Legal issues are a matter for everyone. We should all prepare for sudden unplanned events that may impact our capacity for decision making. Don’t wait for a crisis. Plan now for whom you want to make decisions on your behalf, and take the legal steps to ensure your wishes are carried out and that your estate is managed in the event of your demise. Beware of scammers and the potential for elder abuse which comes in many forms and is often perpetrated by a close family member or friend.

As you can see, there are many things we can do to adjust the road ahead, and there are many more that can make a real difference in your health and lifestyle journey.

As a Nurse of 46 years and having specialised in aged care over the past 30 years, I have learnt that too many people end up in care unnecessarily. If had they made some adjustments and had the conversation with loved ones about their aspirations, they could have avoided Aged Care all together. Yes, it is a sad state of affairs which is why it is so important to change the story. We can all play our part. I often urge older people and their loved ones to have a Plan B.

Plan B starts with where you don’t want to finish. It’s all about YOU choosing a Residential Care Home before the medical crisis comes out of nowhere and chooses for you. Don’t be the one who has no choice, be the one on the front foot because you have already done your homework and chosen ‘that place’ if you need it. Too many people make promises about never putting their loved ones in care. No matter how well-intentioned that aspiration is, it can’t be matched by the reality and demands of 24/7 full physical care in a family home that was not designed to support disability.

Plan B also involves discovering what is available for care in your own home. Find out which Home Care providers would suit your needs as there are many of varying expertise and longevity in the market.  Seek this support early to help you to continue to do the things that you enjoy.

If you do have a crisis requiring residential care and have been assessed, you may benefit from a period of respite before taking a permanent spot. This may give you the time you need to rehabilitate and gain back your strength and confidence. You will also get to try out the facility and determine if it is a good fit for you and your loved ones. This option will also go hand in hand with care in your home once your respite period is complete. Under the current funding arrangements, you are able to access approximately nine weeks of respite per year which can be spread over several episodes.

You may be surprised to know that not every older person needs an Aged Care service. So be sure to plan well, take positive steps to prevent poor health outcomes, and your Plan B may never need to be activated…Now that is a good news story.