Living at home forever – and loving it!

It costs a lot of money to keep somebody in a nursing home – accommodation payments of $250,000-$550,000 are not uncommon and some are higher.

Lower-priced nursing homes are available but demand is high and amenities may not appeal to Baby Boomers used to a certain standard of living.

Much of the cost is borne by the federal government unless your retirement income has reasonable wage parity, which is why the government prefers to help its elderly, chronically ill or physically-challenged citizens to live in their own homes forever.  This is made possible by a range of aids and services under the My Aged Care banner; the former available from government health care outlets or specialist suppliers and the latter from one of the many health care providers. 

The big question is, how do you go about accessing them? 

The answer is, it’s complicated! 

So whether you require help for yourself, your partner or your parents, today or in the future, the time to start looking into it is NOW. 

The first step is simple.  If you think you or someone close to you may be eligible for care, talk to your GP about being assessed by an aged care assessment team (ACAT) of health care professionals.

Or you can self-refer. This can take some weeks to set up unless your case is urgent.

Everything hangs on this interview so it’s important to be brutally honest about your problems so that you can be assessed for the right level of care.

Don’t hang tough, or you’ll get less than you need.  Don’t exaggerate because these trained experts will see through it.

Make a list of all your problems and needs first. And here’s a couple more useful tips:  make it clear you wish to stay at home, not go into a nursing home.

And don’t apply for ACAT too early – if you don’t use it for a year you’ll have to reapply.

The assessment will determine the level of care you need, from a few hours a week to a total care package. 

Details of the four levels of care package are available on the website agedcareguide.com.au and other sources. 

This includes costs and what each person pays depends on a means test.

Basically, the richer you are the more you pay.

So far, so good. But now you have to select a care provider and there is a bewildering number of these – about 14 of them in Brisbane and the north and south coasts, ranging from church-based to private and community-based. 

The ACAT team will put you in touch with some organisations in your area but the final choice, thanks to the Consumer Directed Care (CDP) program, is up to you.

Geoff Marshall, manager of a community care organisation that provides various support services to seniors describes the process of finding the most suitable service provider as having become “de-personalised, invasive and frustrating to potential consumers” since the system changed in 2015.

However, when it comes to making a choice he suggests considering more than one provider because while it is generally simpler to have a single provider, services differ from one care organisation to another and you can pick and choose those that suit your particular needs.  

Fees differ too because there is no government-fixed price for service.

If you live in Brisbane or urban parts of the Sunshine and Gold Coasts you have a lot of choice; in rural areas that choice will be limited. 

Jock Pugh is 83 and has several chronic health conditions though he is still able to move around his home with the aid of a stick and walk short distances.  His slightly younger wife, Bet, is in good health. 

She receives a carer’s allowance from the federal government and Jock also receives entry-level home help – three hours cleaning a month – from a local community-based organisation. 

Transport to medical appointments is also available at a modest fee.

“Even a small amount makes a difference when you are on a pension,” Bet says. “And it’s comforting to know that care packages are available if we need them down the track so we can stay here and not go to a nursing home.” 

Ruth D. is much younger, a teacher in her late 60s, with a chronic debilitating illness that forced her to take early retirement.

She is unable to walk easily, lift anything over a couple of kilos or use her hands with any dexterity. 

She lives alone and doesn’t wish to leave her second-storey unit because it is so handy to the city and to everything and everyone in life she values. 

To help her remain in her home she receives a flexible care package that includes cleaning assistance, occupational therapy, essential grocery shopping and unpacking/putting away, podiatry, hydrotherapy (swimming is her only form of exercise) and physiotherapy. 

Her walker is provided free-of-charge in her care package – provided she needs it at home and not just to go shopping.  If she has to swap it for a wheelchair, this, too, will be provided free. 

Yet, despite the range of government subsidised services and goods available through care providers, many people remain unaware of them or how to access them.  There still prevails in the community a belief in the virtue of “doing it tough”, even though this may be both physically and financially disadvantageous. 

What’s more, keeping up with government changes and trying to pick the right care provider from all those who today advertise so enthusiastically both on-line and in print can be daunting.

“You have to know what you want in terms of aids and services and go for it,” says one recipient who asked that his name be withheld.

“The providers and the government social workers who assess and advise you are all very kind and Caring with a capital C, but they are not always efficient or sufficiently informative. 

“I found it took me six weeks to get even the most basic home help following an assessment that said I needed that help badly.  I’m on an aged pension with some extra income from investments and it was only thanks to a tip from a friend that I learned to dig in my heels and say, ‘I need that (walker) but I can’t afford to pay for it’. And then I got it,” Ruth says.

As Jock Pugh also points out, many of today’s retirees still feel a sense of shame at having to receive help from the government and don’t realise that aged care is a given in any civil society. 

It is an entitlement after years of paying taxes, not a privilege and, considering the costs involved, only the very rich can afford to do without it.

The good news for Baby Boomers and the app-enabled is that we are young enough to take full advantage of new technologies now available to help us be more self-reliant in managing our aged care and thus  stay in our homes forever – and all we need are our smart phones.

Some are already using Google Home as a remote control to manage entertainment and switch lights or thermostats on or off.

Tecla is a cloud-assisted device that operates smart devices such as phones and tablets through wheelchair driving controls and ability switches.

It’s particularly helpful to those with limited upper-mobility.

Siri, Amazon Echo and Amazon Alexa are all programs for those whose sight or hearing is impaired.  Traditional tools and appliances can “get smart” by adaptions such as WeMo plugs.

And this is just the beginning because the overall platform for easy wi-fi control of everything in the home from robotic vacuums to closing the blinds, is expanding rapidly and costs are coming down as the market grows.

Unfortunately, government always lags behind the technological dynamic and so none of these aids from what is now called The Internet of Things, yet receive government assistance. But that, too will change.

Statistics show that most people want to stay in their own homes for the rest of their lives and here in Queensland, both present and future programs and aids are helping us do just that – and loving it!

 Visit yourlifechoices.com.au


ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

There are several websites devoted to home care packages and subsidies for equipment.  Here are the best of them, plus sites for smart home gadgets and the The Internet of Things.

myagedcare.gov.au
agedcareguide.com.au
agedcare101.com.au (Very good for costs of aged care homes versus own home packages)
carergateway.gov.au
diysmarthomeguide.com/complete-guide-smart-home-technology-elderly
qld.gov.au/health/support/equipment/subsidies
aarp.org
makeuseof.com