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Facing the reality of ageing parents

Emma Grey

My son started Kindy this year, and we took the obligatory family photos, including some with my parents, who are both 84.

Maybe it’s that I have a gorgeous new camera lens that shows every wrinkle, or maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but when I looked at the photos afterwards I realised with quite a shock that somewhere, between my sister and I rushing about with teenagers and primary-schoolers and jobs and ‘all the things’—our parents, who we see all the time, have gotten old.

They’re actively involved in their Probus club and Dad is on the senior citizen public speaking circuit all over the countryside. They go to church every week, and movies and excursions with their friends. Dad reads books and follows current affairs and is almost as addicted to Facebook as I am, so the idea of them actually being in their mid-80s—actually being ‘proper old’—is almost as inconceivable as the fact that I’m heading for mid-40s and my elder baby is heading for 18.

But ‘ageing’ they are. And mum has dementia. It has been mercifully slow to develop over the last nine years, but she has little short-term memory at all, and can become very confused.

Our parents still live in their family home, not far from my sister and I (we’re one of those weird families who all live in the same suburb). It works out really well because it means we’re able to send kids for a walk to drop left-overs to grandparents, or grandparents can do emergency runs to the local school when we forget to pick up kids, like I did yesterday. Who has dementia now?

We’re the embodiment of it taking a ‘village’ to raise, well, all of us, really! The support works in all directions and it’s wonderful.

We’re acutely aware, though, that if something happened to Dad, we’d be in a world of trouble. Neither my sister nor I have a spare room in our homes, and while we could manage on couches in the short-term, it’s not a realistic solution. Mum wouldn’t be okay on her own for a day. She wouldn’t be okay on her own for more than an hour or so. And this is before she requires the kind of high-dependency care that she will need as her disease progresses.

There’s an emotional tug-o-war when your parents reach this stage. When they’re happy in their own home, you want to help them remain independent for as long as possible. Mum giving up her driver’s license was heartbreaking enough—not to imagine her leaving her home.

Realistically, they will soon need the kind of care we can’t feasibly provide between us. I remember my grandmother threatening my mum when I was a teenager: “Never put me in a home!” and my mum turning to me and saying, “Don’t ever let me get like that. Just put me in a home when I reach this stage!”

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Goodwin Village Ainslie.

That’s all very well, until she reaches that stage, and forgets she said that and felt that way, and is resistant. Thankfully there’s a range of good accommodation options available to us now—from the gorgeously palatial to the more hospital-like for higher-dependency care. Places like The Central in Crace and Goodwin Village Ainslie, offer resort-style apartments with onsite Lifestyle Officers and a communal lounge and bar. Although unlike regular apartment complexes, they also offer the additional security of 24-hour nurse assistance and ‘future ready’ design such as wheelchair access, so that there’s minimal disruption when needs change.

I think if we approach this the way we’ve just approached school choices, we’ll find somewhere that might not be their family home, but can feel like home, for this important next phase in their lives, and in ours.

Because all we really need right now, and in the future, is peace of mind that our parents are safe, comfortable and able to live with each other, the way they have done for over sixty years, for as many more years as possible.

Concerned about an elderly loved one?

Explore what support options look like, at the Goodwin Open Day Fair. From active independent living and wellness classes, to care options if your needs change. Take the family along, tour the village, test the food, and see what a modern “nursing home” can really be like.

Choices aren’t always easy, so HerCanberra has put together a panel of experts to tackle the issues at 2pm over wine and canapés in an ‘Exploring Options’ event.

the essentials

What: Goodwin Open Day Fair
When: 10am to 3pm, 
Saturday 12 November, 2016
Where: 
Goodwin Village Ainslie, 35 Bonney Street, Ainslie
RSVP: Call 
Annette on 6175 5100
Web: 
Goodwin.org.au 

This is a sponsored editorial. For more information on sponsored editorials, click here.

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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