“We base our care on respect, dignity and personal privacy, but we also encourage a balance between being sociable and private space.” – Lorraine Calder.
It can take time to choose your ideal residential aged care home. There’s a lot to consider, from the location and the layout of the rooms, to the quality of the social life.
It’s important to find a home where you can continue to enjoy the things that you love. By thinking about what you want from life and identifying your priorities, you can start to work out which features and services are most important to you, so you can start to narrow your search. Then, when you get as far as a visit, you can focus on things that are harder to research online, such as the atmosphere and the quality of your welcome.
To help you begin your decision-making process, we spoke to two aged care experts about some of the key considerations when it comes to homes and services.
Choose your surroundings
It’s important to think about how you like to structure your day, and how much flexibility you want to have. Some aged care homes are run according to a schedule, but if you prefer to set your own agenda, a household model might work better for you.
“The model we run, Better Together, is resident-centred,” says Lorraine Calder, an experienced design manager and architect who works with Australian Unity as General Manager, Places. “Our residents often come to us because their home environment is no longer suitable for their needs, or it’s limiting the activities they can undertake or participate in. We aim to enable and encourage all of our residents to participate in things that help them stay active and bring them joy.”
Also consider the relationship you want to have with the people that care for you.
“We roster to each small household, which means you’re always being cared for by the same group of people,” says Beverly Smith, Executive General Manager, Residential Communities at Australian Unity, who adds that one of the things Australian Unity’s residents say they appreciate most is their rapport with the people who care for them. “You can get to know them – and they get to know you, your likes and dislikes, your family and your history. This sense of being understood and valued makes a big contribution to overall wellbeing.”
Think about the things you enjoy
Being able to do the things we love helps us to have a happier, more enjoyable life. Whether you have existing hobbies or are open to new suggestions, these are a few things you might want to consider.
Most aged care homes that are built to a small household model have a domestic-scale kitchen in each home where meals can be cooked from scratch.
If you love to cook, you can help out with food preparation - make salads, cut up fruit and cheese platters for afternoon tea, or bake muffins and cakes. You are also welcome to prepare your own snacks.
“At Australian Unity, residents have access to a well-stocked pantry in each household,” says Beverly. “You can make make things like scrambled eggs or a toasted sandwich whenever your like.”
Many aged care homes have a communal garden for everyone to enjoy. Check whether there’s a place where you can grow your own flowers, plants and herbs.
Taking a stroll
Lorraine feels strongly that all aged care residents should have easy access to public spaces.
“We all know how important it is to stay as active as you can,” she says. “The easier it is to get outside, the more likely you are to walk that bit further.”
She designs Australian Unity’s homes with what she calls a main street, which links all of the small households in the home.
“It’s also a social area where we have a range of spaces such as a cinema, gym, consulting and beauty therapy and a cafe,” she says.
Socialising and shared activities
If you love to socialise, you’ll want to check the activities on offer. Are they always the same or is there a more creative and flexible approach?
What about outings – will you be able to visit the kinds of places you enjoy? And are there spaces where you and friend or two can chat, do a puzzle or play cards?
Spending time with family and friends
Some residential homes offer rooms of different sizes, with the option of paying more for a larger space. As well as thinking about your own day-to-day comfort, you might want to consider your visitors.
“Our choices range from a standard room to a suite,” says Lorraine. “The standard rooms have space for a double bed, a big comfortable chair and usually a desk, and some also have an outdoor area. There’s also room to entertain one or two visitors in comfort.”
Enjoying your own company
Many of us also like to spend some time on our own. If you love retreating to your own sanctuary, make sure you’ll have the privacy you need.
“We base our care on respect, dignity and personal privacy, but we also encourage a balance between being sociable and private time,” says Lorraine. “It’s important for both your physical and mental health to take part in some shared activities each week, so you should check for those you enjoy.”
Decide on any extras
Some aged care homes offer a range of hotel-style services for an extra fee. These could include specialised activities, wine or beer with meals, and your choice of extra furnishings. You should ask the home for more details about their extras and fees, or use the My Aged Care Find a Provider tool.
“Each provider has different options available,” says Beverly. “We always recommend that people get professional financial advice on how to organise their payments to fit their personal circumstances.”
The personal touch
Each provider has different options available such as hairdressing, a choice of meals and outings. However, as Beverly points out, what sets some apart is their focus on individual needs and preferences.
“One of our homes has a lot of Italian residents,” she says. “They often cook pasta together and it’s wonderful to hear so much laughter and chatter in Italian when they do. We also made sure their hairdresser speaks Italian so they can be sure of looking exactly as they want.”
Finding the right home starts with careful research into the facilities and services you think you might need. By sorting out your priorities, you’re likely to find a good fit in an aged care residence that suits you.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.