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Facing into fear: The key to a smooth transition into aged care

Written and accurate as at: Feb 15, 2023 Current Stats & Facts

The prospect of leaving home and moving into an aged care facility can be an extremely daunting one, not only for parents, but also the children responsible for their welfare. A fear of change, uncertainty and the sentimental loss of losing an attachment to a home and its memories can be big barriers to moving forward.

We spoke to Louise Biti at Aged Care Steps about what can be done to diffuse the fears around aged care and create a smoother and less daunting transition into this next phase of life.

Q. Louise, fear is a complex topic. How does someone go about helping parents face their fears around moving into an aged care facility? 

Everyone’s fears are different of course, but usually it boils down to several main areas. One of those areas is the fear of things changing. As we age, we tend to grow afraid of change and the fear of moving out of a home you’ve lived in, and belongings you’ve cherished for many years is huge. 

One way to approach this fear is to start the process of decluttering early. Spending time slowly going through belongings with a parent can give them time to adjust to change, but also help them work through the emotional process of deciding which items stay or go.

There are other fears that can play a big role, and getting to the root of these is really important. For example, they may fear a loss of freedom and independence. Or perhaps good food is really important to them, and they fear they will be eating substandard meals for the rest of their lives. Once you understand the things they are most worried about, you can tackle them in the aged care selection process.

Q. Selecting an aged care facility can be a huge task that requires plenty of time and research. Once you’ve identified fears, how do these help with filtering down the many options? 

Understanding what really matters means that you can apply these filters when whittling down the many age care options. For example, if separation from a husband or wife is a big fear, then it may be worth considering a nearby facility where the husband or wife can visit every day without having to rely on someone for a lift. 

If food is really important, explore facilities that offer menu choices. While most places don’t allow cooking, some may allow residents to leave for a family ritual Sunday lunch, for example. Others may allow you to bring in treats or a takeaway from their favourite restaurant, or for you to join them once a week for a (paid) meal. If being outdoors is really important, consider a facility whereby it’s easy to walk outside and see trees and sunsets.

Similarly, if activities are especially important, focus on asking the aged care provider questions about what hobbies, crafts, or music concerts they offer. Do they have a piano to play? If your parent is an avid gardener, try to pick a facility with nice gardens, and opportunities to be involved in it. For example, will they allow them to grow some pot plants? If not, perhaps there is a community garden nearby, where a loved one can escort them once a week. Dealing with change is no easy task, but are there things we can do to create consistency. 

Q. The onset of dementia can often bring about the need for aged care. What tips do you have for searching for a ‘dementia-friendly’ facility?

The key thing here is to look into how the aged care provider has incorporated the needs of those living with dementia into the design of their facility. People living with dementia can suffer from cognitive impairments, memory loss, confusion, wandering and reduced judgement, and research1 shows that a well-set up environment can promote independence, familiarity, safety and meaningful engagement.

Dementia-friendly design provides essential prompts to help people orient themselves and navigate from place to place, with maximum accessibility but reduced risk. Examples of this might include the use of contrasting colour so that toilet seats, door handles and grab rails can be seen, removing glare and reflections from mirrors which can be confusing and frightening, or clear signage to help with wayfinding around the home.

Taking things one step further, there are innovative homes that do an awful lot around designing for dementia. For example, some aged care providers have recreated ‘village feel’ facilities with smaller, cluster-style housing designed for those living with Dementia, and local shops. Facilities such as these are starting to emerge and they may come with a higher price tag.

Q. What about when it’s time to move in? What can be done to help an elderly parent feel at home as quickly as possible?

Bringing items that hold the most sentimental value or provide reassuring familiarity is key. Photos are an obvious example, but there is likely to be limited wall space, so consider an electronic photo frame that saves space and can store more cherished memories. But there may be other things, such as a favourite arm chair or bed linen, ornaments, treasured decorations, or a vase. Speaking to the provider about what things they allow can help you get organised. 

Make sure you take a radio or TV if this is not supplied, or an iPad if that’s what they are used to. Things like toiletries may be provided, but your parent may have their own preference. Clothing ideally needs to be labelled, comfortable to wear and easy to put on. 

There are also things you can do on the day of arrival, such as going ahead and setting up the room so it feels like home as soon as they arrive. Arrange for your parent to arrive at a quiet time that’s not too overwhelming. And before you leave, make sure to get a thorough orientation tour to understand the schedules and times. Introductions to one or two other residents might help too, and some providers will allow family members to have the first meal in the dining room for a fee. And don’t forget to ask the provider for tips. They are highly experienced in making sure their residents are happy and comfortable.

1 https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/system/files/2020-08/RCD.9999.0409.0406.pdf 

The information contained in this article represents the views and opinions of Louise Biti, who is not affiliated, associated, authorised, or endorsed by us. In addition, this information is intended for educational purposes only, and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation and needs. For further information or clarity on anything that has been discussed in this article, please consider seeking qualified and professional advice.

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