Don’t miss the signs that a loved one needs support
Knowing when it’s time to step in to an older person’s life is hard.
Whether it’s facilitating home help, organising respite care or choosing residential aged care, family and friends need to be alert to the signs of distress and to seek professional support.
“I was starting to get phone calls that Julie couldn’t find the car at a shopping centre, or she would be somewhere and ring me and say she didn’t know how to get home.”
The early signs that something was amiss with his wife Julie had a familiarity for Andy Coller.
Only a few years previously he and Julie had navigated the difficult path of diagnosis and care after Julie’s mother had begun to exhibit symptoms of dementia.
Julie was diagnosed with Younger Onset Dementia in 2016, aged in her late-50s.
Andy, a Baptist pastor, took early retirement to shoulder the weight of care with the assistance of Carinity Home Care.
“Two young ladies did some cleaning and sat with Julie while I had a break – fantastic! The two office coordinators who came around and helped me through the whole process, ensured the care and support was tailored just to our needs,” Andy says.
The care was more than simply providing services.
“I didn’t pick up that they were intentionally checking up on me as well as Julie. They were doing it in a way a friend would, not an organisation,” Andy says.
“There was always the offer: if you need help or need anything, don’t forget to contact us. I came to count these people as friends.”
The power of choice
Carinity Home Care Manager Janelle Heyse is a strong advocate of the Australian Government Home Care Package reforms of the last decade, allowing consumers to choose a provider that best matches their needs, and to lead decisions about their support and how funds are used.
“The reforms recognised that quality care is more than providing a standard suite of physical services, and that providing choice is both powerful and empowering,” Janelle says.
“For someone like Andy, this meant providing a helping hand with Julie’s care and helping around the house, and also giving him a well- needed break.
“We’ve had clients getting their carer to take them to the beach, or to visit a friend, or just go out for coffee. One gentleman just wanted to go fishing.
“We might also look at what community and council services are available in the local area, and help them connect or re-connect with activities which bring joy and meaning to their lives.”
Noticing the signs
For Tony and Kerry Woods, the first indications that Kerry’s father Mervyn Rick needed help were small but out-of-character changes.
“A person’s eating habits, the way they groom themselves: little things stand out when you know someone,” Tony says.
“Their clothes are a bit shabby and they might wear the same thing for days. The fridge is a little empty. You start to wonder if they’re looking after themselves.”
Mervyn had always been capable and independent, and it was only after he moved recently into residential aged care at Carinity Hilltop that more signs emerged.
“When I was cleaning out the unit it became clear Mervyn hadn’t been really looking after himself; things like out-of-date food and the untidiness of the unit,” Tony recalls.
“Sometimes when you suspect someone is not looking after themselves, it pays to do a little further investigation.”
Mervyn initially moved to Carinity for respite care after a stint in hospital. Tony and Kerry suggested he consider staying on as a permanent resident.
“He wanted to go back to the unit for a bit longer. So Mervyn had the benefit of seeing what it was like there, and then going home. After a few weeks at home he said he thought he would like to go back,” Tony says.
“Mervyn made the decision himself to move, and I think that’s very important if people are capable of making that decision themselves. After a few weeks there, he looked a lot healthier and certainly was a lot happier.”
Tony believes that choosing a small, non-profit care organisation has contributed to the smooth transition.
“Sometimes in the bigger organisations people get lost. It’s the little things that make a place feel homely. At the end of the day, it is their home now.”
Carinity caters for various levels of care, providing a range of support, including home care supporting seniors and those living with disability, residential care, dementia support, as well as retirement villages, providing a sense of wellbeing through social support and health care.
Carinity Aged Care Regional Manager Kathy Nicholls says this holistic model is key to providing quality, community-based care for an expanding customer base.
“We have an ageing population and the expectation is people will continue to participate in activities they love and to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Most people prefer to do that in their own home,” Kathy says.
“When the signs that someone needs support appear, the period of transition can be challenging for the individual and their families.
“Older people may have had negative experiences when their own parents and grandparents needed care, and there may be a fear of ‘being put in a home’ without any consultation.
“By enabling people to make the choice to stay at home as long as possible, offering respite when needed, and creating intentional residential communities, much of that anxiety can be alleviated.
“Aged care is not just about providing the essentials of life. It’s about creating a comfortable and comforting space where people feel valued and cared for – and where their voice is heard and respected.”