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Prior to a few years ago, Meredith Dundas hadn’t thought that much about aged care.
Although her mum and dad, Ann and John, were both elderly, they were living quite comfortably without assistance in their Southern Highlands home.
But things changed when the couple, both in their early-80s, transitioned to an independent living facility in Sydney in 2016.
A diagnosis of dementia meant her father then required additional assistance. Meredith and her sister Catriona suddenly found themselves taking a crash course in government-funded Home Care and what the various providers offered.
She was shocked at how complex the system was and how much information she had to take in. “It was incredibly complicated to navigate,” says Meredith. “My parents are both intelligent, computer-literate people and they couldn’t understand it without assistance.”
Meredith says her family has had a bumpy ride through the Home Care system and she hopes the lessons she has learned may be of use to others. She says one of the initial challenges was understanding the different Commonwealth care schemes available and different levels of assistance provided under each.
Her mum and dad eventually underwent an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) assessment and were assessed as being eligible for a Home Care Package. However, they initially struggled to find appropriate services in their area.
“My sister and I had to ring 30 providers to see which ones were able to provide care,” she says. “And that was just to go on the waiting list until a local provider had availability to provide the services.”
Another struggle for Meredith’s mum and dad was understanding who paid for the stated hourly cost for a Home Care service, such as visiting the art gallery or being taken to a medical appointment. While this cost was largely covered by their assistance package and did not come out of their pockets, the pair were reluctant to use the services out of the misplaced concern that they were expensive.
When her dad’s dementia worsened, his Home Care entitlement was increased. However, because of the challenges they had experienced and her dad’s unwillingness to have additional support, the family did not arrange additional care.
Meredith believes a lack of support for his dementia – in particular reminders to take his medication – contributed to his death in 2017. Meredith’s mother has now moved into residential supported care close to her daughter.
Meredith says she wishes she had known what she does now, at the start of her parents’ aged care journey. Meredith hadn’t realised the long waiting times that can occur for home care services. She recommends other families think ahead and factor in wait times, “You should apply for the services you want as soon as you get assessed by ACAT,” she says.
Meredith says there are also professionals around who can help families navigate the confusing Home Care landscape. She advises in addition to providers, support staff with the government’s myagedcare.gov.au site and hospital social workers are both able to provide assistance to families.