Have conversations about aged care sooner rather than later

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Aged care plans require plenty of communication.

Unpalatable as it may be, clients should be encouraged to have sensitive discussions with their families about aged care needs sooner rather than later if they want to avoid potential conflict and distress, as well as financial problems, says Derek McMillan, CEO of Retirement Living at Australian Unity.

“Our rapidly ageing population, increasing life expectancy, and busy lives mean that more and more Australians will need some form of assistance as they age, whether that be care in the home or residential aged care.

“As the supply of aged care services is limited, families need to consider their options in advance to avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety for themselves and their families.

“The best preparation for parents is to discuss well in advance with their children, and other involved relatives, what their preferences are and what plans may need to be made as they get older.

“These discussions should take into account what parents want to do with the family home when they are no longer able to live in it alone; what kind of facility they would like to live in; what they want to do if they can no longer drive; and even what kind of medical care they would like.

“Most of us find such issues difficult to talk about at the best of times. However, having this conversation under pressure when an immediate decision needs to be made is much more difficult, more emotional, and often a source of unhappiness.

“Therefore, families should start to talk about it well before any decisions are likely to be needed, so the discussions can be held in calm and rational manner – and most important of all, they reflect what the parents want.”

Mr McMillan said that often, people find they have very different expectations to their parents.

“For instance, we have seen adult children assume their parents didn’t want to leave the family home, when the reality was their parents couldn’t wait to move into a smaller place but hadn’t moved out because they thought their children would be upset if they sell it.

“We have also spoken to parents who assumed they would be invited to move in with one of their children who would then provide the support and care t they required, and were bitterly disappointed to find their children had no intention of taking them in.

“Having an open and frank discussion about expectations well in advance will allow better planning and help avoid the conflict that unpleasant surprises usually bring,” Mr McMillan said.

He said families should apply the “40-70” rule (after research undertaken in the US*) which recommends that when the children reach age 40 or the parents reach age 70, it’s time to have the conversation, even if the parents are still perfectly healthy and independent.

He added that a necessary component of the conversation is the finances.

“We are inundated with advertising images of retirees on caravanning trips around Australia or walking hand in hand down a beach, which might be the dream for a few years.

“But the reality is most Australians will need to plan for the cost and the probability of additional health and aged care in latter years of their retirement.

“The significant gap between the amount of funding provided by the Government to aged care and healthcare services, and the ever-increasing demand for such services resulting in potential difficulty in getting aged care accommodation, needs to be understood and planned for.

“Consequently, families will need to talk about how they will fund the care needed by ageing family members as well as how and where that care should be provided” Mr McMillan said.

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