Choosing an aged care home for yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming. Sadly, for many families it is a decision undertaken in haste, with adult children asked to make a shortlist of acceptable homes within a matter of days.
The government’s My Aged Care website can help you identify homes in your area, with the accommodation and care available, costs, and results of quality and compliance audits. But nothing beats visiting a home: be sure to make a time, and ask plenty of questions.
What do you need? Care is obviously key, so make sure you have a good understanding of your loved one’s care needs, and whether the home can provide the care needed. If dementia or other behaviours need to be catered for, find out the practices of the home: some have diversional therapy programs, while others may primarily use sedation and restraints. You need to understand exactly what care they can offer residents.
Who cares? Find out how many care staff there are, their qualifications and the roster. Most homes are not required to keep a specific nurse-to-resident ratio, and most carers are not nurses (they are personal carers). Aged care homes are often zoned into areas, so asking questions such as, “How many care staff are in this area?” can help you better understand how many staff there are. You’re likely to visit during the day, when the maximum number of staff are working, so be sure to ask about nights and weekends. Ask too about the number of agency staff – this will give you an idea of how often the person caring for your loved one is likely to change.
What’s the food like? Unappetising food is the most common complaint of residents and their families. Good food that appeals to your loved one is an important element for enjoying meal times and getting the nutrition seniors need. Many homes will have a menu in the dining area: ask for a copy to see if they are meals your loved one would enjoy. If necessary, check that special dietary requirements can be catered to. You may also like to ask if meals are in a communal dining room or can be served in their room, whether there is a choice of meals, if wine or beer is available (there may be an extra cost) and whether meal times are fixed.
How do residents spend their time? There is normally an activity menu; pick up a copy of that too. The number and types of activities on offer vary greatly, and often revolve around the home’s amenities – those with a piano will usually offer singing or dancing centred around it; homes with a cinema have movie nights; and there are normally other amenities, such as a library, day spa, hairdresser, gardens or walking paths.
Can I try before I buy? A respite stay of a couple of weeks is the best way to find out if a home is the right fit. This will give your loved one time to get to know the staff, other residents, activities and the food. The other great thing about respite is that there is no accommodation payment or means-tested fee. Respite residents pay only the basic daily fee (currently $53/day), plus any extra or additional service fees.
How much will it cost? Some homes are very transparent about charges, providing prospective residents with a quote of all the costs, including any means-tested fees; others are transparent about their own facility charges, such as accommodation and additional service fees, but leave it up to prospective residents to work out how that fits in with the government’s means testing arrangements. In either case, it is worth seeking specialist financial advice so you know exactly how much it is going to cost, and the smartest way to pay for it, before you sign the contract.
Putting in some work to find suitable aged care facilities that suit your loved one’s needs will pay great dividends. Getting the right care at the right price and the right time can make all the difference to the whole family’s wellbeing for many years. Like choosing a home or a school, there is no single right choice; it’s about finding the right choice for your loved one, and for you.