Many people around the world would say we are the lucky country, a land of milk and honey. What makes this country so great, among many things, in my opinion is our Freedom and Independence. Would you agree?
But what is the difference between Freedom and independence, and aren’t they the same?
“Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”
“Independence, on the other hand, allows you to be free from outside control, not depending on others’ authority. Not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.”
One of the major factors for older Australians wanting to stay in their own homes is not wanting to lose their freedom and independence. The average age of Australians moving into full time care (i.e. Residential Aged Care) is currently 84.
Very few would argue with this premise so long as the resident was:
- Had an emergency plan in place in case of an accident
- Was able to manage the usual daily household functions (i.e. bathing, dressing, making meals etc.)
- Receiving regular visits from family, friends and perhaps a care worker
- And have access to the usual conveniences (doctor, chemist, supermarket and so on).
But of course, life is full of the unexpected and can change at any moment - a fall, an operation, increased medication or the loss of a loved one could trigger uncertainty, a lack of confidence and perhaps depression, necessitating the consideration and/or subsequently requiring a move into a full time care facility. Change is often not a friend to the elderly and this move can be viewed as a further loss of their freedom and independence. This is a difficult time not only for the loved one, but for the entire support family. In my experience, the homes are, in the main, staffed by genuine, well qualified and caring people who welcome the resident into their new home as part of a larger, extended family.
I remember a spritely 87 year old lady who was used to independent living for most of her life, until a fall and several broken bones made it difficult for her to remain in her villa at the retirement village. Her skill with her electric buggy allowed her to carry out all the usual errands i.e. visits to the doctor, or a quick shopping trip to the local nearby shopping centre. Initially, the move to Residential Aged Care was challenging for her but after mastering the new wheel chair, she was off around the home as usual. Memories of her past activities encouraged her to go further a field and it wasn’t long before she was out the front door and down the street to – who knows where?, much to the concern of the facility staff.
The early onset of mild dementia made these trips more frequent which resulted in the facility endeavouring to curb her adventures through pressure pads across her door way, to finally a stable door to prevent the inevitable escape. Her continued attempts to regain her freedom (or escape as others would see it), coupled with the increasing level of dementia, brought about her move into a secure wing. Knowing her absolute need for her freedom and independence, this was a very traumatic period for both she and her family.
Having said that, the move into a more secure environment also brought many positives, such as her safety and a higher ongoing level of care given the presence of additional carers in that environment. Her independence and freedom can never be fully restored but she can grow old with dignity in a safe environment providing peace of mind for everyone.
From my experience, it is “change” that is the major issue for our older loved ones and one way of combatting this and making their journey easier is through communication. This can be done on a number of fronts:
- Inspecting a local facility yourself first and seeing what type of vibe you get from it
- Introduce them to an aged care facility before they need this service by visiting existing residents and spending some time in that environment
- Considering Respite Care for a limited time so they can dip their toe in the water
- Keep them informed and involved in the process going forward from independent living, to eventually full care in an Aged Care Facility
It’s often not an easy journey, but these little points may make everyone more comfortable when the time does come to transition into residential aged care.