Do you make these mistakes when you think about aged care?

Group of older people having conversation at table

If you’re that person who will do anything to avoid or delay thinking about aged care, even when you know there’s a pressing need, then take heart: you’re not alone. Aged care gets a bad press – and rightly so in many cases, as the recent Royal Commission into Quality and Safety in Aged Care has shown. But aged care hesitancy is more complicated than fear of substandard services and abuse.  

Our fear of aged care is deeply connected with our fear and rejection of ageing generally. From childhood we are told that old is bad, sad and lonely and we will go to great lengths to hide or deny the most natural of processes – the passing of time. As a result, we often avoid acknowledging age-related problems or even having practical conversations and, ironically, we put ourselves at greater risk in the long term.  

If we want to be on the front foot about ageing well and – ideally, for most people – avoiding entry to residential care, we need to change some of our thinking, get smart and stop making these mistakes.

Mistake 1: Thinking ‘aged care’ = nursing homes

It’s hardly surprising that the phrase, ‘aged care’, conjures up visions of very frail, very old people confined to beds or chairs in short-staffed homes with bad food.  Media reporting on Australia’s recent Royal Commission into aged care overwhelmingly focused on residential aged care, even though the big majority of people using aged care services are living at home. In any given year, the number of people aged over 65 who go into a residential aged care home is about 7% – and that number is reducing.

Mistake 2: Putting off the decision to get support

People often make the mistake of ‘holding out’ for as long as possible from getting the support they need because they worry that aged care is a ‘slippery slope’. They think that, once they have ‘given in’ to the system, they will gradually lose control over the lives they have always lived and there is no turning back. Unfortunately, persistently ignoring the need for a bit of assistance can lead to more serious problems and the need for a lot more assistance. As in so many aspects of life, a stitch in time saves nine.   

Mistake 3: Not taking control of your support needs

It’s understandable. Most of us don’t know much about the aged care system and what we do know comes largely from scary media reports or our own experience with a family member. We are wary and tentative (sometimes terrified) about loss of independence and diminished control over our lives. While we can’t always control the health or other challenges we might face, we do have the right to choice and control over the services and supports we receive to meet our needs. Remember, the system is here to support us to age well: to provide assistance if and when we need it, in the way we need it, and for however long we need it; including being able to dip in and out as our needs change. And unless there is a health or medical reason otherwise, we always remain in control.   

Mistake 4: Not knowing your options

You’ve no doubt heard that great adage: you don’t know what you don’t know. When it comes to aged care, there’s a lot to know and most of us have only the most superficial understanding of what’s on offer and how it works – until we need to. You’ve probably heard lots of horror stories about how complicated it is and how powerless people can feel, especially if it is an urgent encounter with the system. So the other important adage to highlight here is: knowledge is power. Do yourself a favour and invest some time in understanding the options and processes. Visit the government’s MyAgedCare website (it’s being improved all the time) or read our brief but helpful article about how home care works.  

Mistake 5: Just letting the system choose

When it comes to homecare, you have some options to consider and it pays (often literally) to think about them. Firstly, anyone eligible for a home care package, has to choose a ‘package provider’. That’s an organisation approved by the government to ‘hold’ or ‘host’ the funding. The next choice is the important one. Depending on your needs and circumstances, you can choose how much or how little involvement you have in how the package is managed and who provides the different services you need.

If you prefer minimum involvement and you’re pretty flexible and accommodating about your needs, you might choose to have all your services delivered and managed by your package provider with just a little guidance from you. But you can also play a bigger part in the management of the Home Care Package, including fully managing it yourself: choosing your own service providers (support workers) and managing your own funding, within the guidelines. That’s called ‘self-management’. It’s not for everyone but it can make a big difference to a lot of people as they navigate new life challenges. The bottom line is, know your choices – don’t just let the system choose for you.

Choosing self-management

For people who want to try self-management – even a little – Mable helps you connect with independent care and support workers in your community and choose the people who share your interests and suit your needs best.

To get started with Mable, sign up here for free or call 1300 736 573 for any assistance.