NAVIGATING aged care is overwhelming at the best of times, but the emotional side of dealing with elderly parents’ frail years is rarely talked about, says Rita Merienne, author of “Tough… Tough Times… Tough Decisions”.
“It’s a hard time in anyone’s life, to have the roles reversed and take care of your parents as they have always taken care of you,” she says.
After Rita’s mother died, she says it naturally fell to her and her two older sisters to make sure their dad was okay.
At the time, Canberra-based Rita’s older sister Marilyn lived on the Gold Coast, near their dad, and their other sister Yvonne was in Adelaide.
“Marilyn took on the majority of his care as she was close by, while Yvonne and I supported her as much as we could over the phone and with visits,” says Rita.
“Dad had severe macular degeneration and became unable to look after himself at home, so we all agreed to move him to an aged care facility.”
Rita says they were relieved by the decision, and their dad settled in well, but shortly afterwards Marilyn passed away unexpectedly.
“It was hard enough for us all to deal with the sudden loss of Marilyn; she was only 57 and had previously been so well,” she says.
“But it caused additional problems as she had been dad’s power of attorney – she held all his bank account details, all his doctors’ appointments, everything. It was hard to pick up all the loose ends, particularly from a distance.”
Rita would travel to the Gold Coast every four weeks to take her dad to his dreaded eye appointments, but she says it was difficult for them both.
“The appointments made dad upset; he needed a series of painful injections in his eyes and it was hard for me to see him suffering,” she says.
“Out of the blue I suggested he come to Canberra. I hadn’t discussed it with anyone else, but I knew there had to be a better way to manage everything.”
Rita moved her dad out of the Gold Coast facility and into respite for a month while she sorted out a facility for him locally and found a specialist that would take him on as a patient.
“It worked out well, but it was generally a tough time for our family – my 17-year-old son had recently been diagnosed with an eye condition, my father-in-law had a triple bypass and my then-husband had a heart attack – and it took its toll on me,” she says.
“I found the hardest part was doing all the things – keeping up with work, the family and everything with dad.
“One day I just couldn’t go to the office. I was dressed ready to go, but I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I knew something had to give.”
Rita took some time off work and started writing the book to share her experiences and advice.
“It’s important to note that no matter what route you go with aged care – a facility, your home or at-home support with a carer – it’s a lot of work,” she says.
“And it’s emotionally hard to see your parent in a different light.
“You have to be kind to yourself – get out and have a coffee, see friends. You need support, too.
“Yvonne and I have learned so much – things like, have two powers of attorney!
“We’ve been lucky in that we never disagreed about dad’s care, and she has always been a great support to me over the phone.
“dad has since passed away, but I wanted to share what we’ve learned so that no one else has to go through the pain we did.”
Buy the book at agedcarewithease.com
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