Living longer is not better

“If I ever get like that, just shoot me”, my father used to say to my brother and I.

Living longer is not better

“If I ever get like that, just shoot me”, my father used to say to my brother and I. We were in our early 20s and Mum was grappling with yet another call from yet another nursing home which was tired of my nana’s disruptive behaviour.

So we would laugh and promise Dad that we’d definitely pull the trigger at the required time. And Mum would do the hard yards and Nana would be moved and things would settle down again.

Nana eventually died of a heart attack at age 78. She didn’t have dementia. She was just a bit cantankerous. Thirty years later, it is Dad who has made the move to an aged care facility. And it’s a far bleaker situation than the relatively ‘happy’ end experienced by my Nana.

Owing to the wonders of medical science, Dad’s physical health at 90 is fairly robust. But his mind started to deteriorate a year or two ago. On balance, he has remained fairly calm and amenable, if a little confused, from time to time.

Sadly, his dementia seems to have led to a loss of balance – a gap between his brain’s command to walk and his legs’ ability to respond. So in the past few weeks he has begun to suffer multiple falls.

Our 86-year-old mother is extremely frail; the result of two strokes and little consistent rehabilitation. So she has been alarmed by his sudden falls as well as unable to help him get up again.

The result, of course, was inevitable. Dad landed in an outer eastern hospital three weeks ago. He was totally disorientated and quickly slipped into confusion, agitation and an intractable desire to get the hell out of there.

Needless to say the staff did not find him easy to manage. Nor did they manage him well. Basic care seemed to go missing in action, as they left this poor, confused, distressed old man unattended to drink hot cups of cocoa, attempt to cut his roast beef with a spoon and to fall off the end of his bed. We visited often and witnessed this lack of supervision, but were not there 24/7 to make up the shortfall nor to see what else did or did not happen

And when Dad’s agitation was at its worst, often late at night, the hospital staff would phone and wake our mother who would be equally distressed and disorientated, asking her to talk to Dad and calm him down. How she, too, did not suffer a fall is known only to God.

Hospital bed shortages are a fact of life in Victoria, so it only took a few days before the ward nurse started to pressure us to move Dad to a facility, any facility, as he wasn’t technically unwell and was taking a much-needed bed.

The process of getting his aged care assessment revised from ‘low-care’ to ‘high-care’ was complicated and took some days. Dad is a war veteran, so we wanted to take advantage of his DVA entitlement to supported respite to give Mum a few week’s grace in which to consider selling the family home, gathering together the not inconsiderable residential aged care bond and finding the best facility to suit Dad’s needs.

But no, in their ‘wisdom’ the Aged Care Assessment Team deemed Dad a permanent resident up front. And so it was official. He could not go home or to any facility on a temporary basis, so the race was on to understand the unnecessarily complex income and assets rules attached to aged care residency, to find a facility with a vacancy (good luck with that one!), to seek the appropriate financial advice before signing a contract and to do the sums over and over and over again to ensure that mum would be left with enough to live on, albeit a meager existence.

Australia’s aged care system is a nightmare.

Those who have been down this road will smile ruefully and nod their heads in confirmation.

The Federal Government is proudly spruiking its new package, now euphemistically named ‘Living Longer, Living Better’.

Pardon my French, but this is simply bullshit. The new system is as confusing as the old one. And the idea of ‘consumer directed care’ is laughable when consumers have no idea of their entitlements or how these will be viewed by various government agencies with incomprehensible rules and regulations.

Australia’s longevity is one of the highest in the world and we have tended to view this as a great achievement.

But as our frail older citizens’ minds break down well before their bodies give up, we are facing an epidemic for which we are totally unprepared.

In order to protect her peace of mind and physical safety, we asked Dad’s aged care facility to leave Mum alone and call my brother or I first up if Dad needed anything. So on Friday I received a total of eight calls about Dad’s needs. Some were routine, but one was a request for me to talk to him and calm him down. Apparently he then went to sleep. But the next call was to advise me that I would receive a form by fax to authorise the use of restraints if his agitation continued. Yes, they would need to tie my old Dad to his bed.

He was right, you know. The time comes when the kindest answer would be a gun. 


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