Living in an aged care home: Desmond and Carol’s stories

Two older Australians living in residential aged care share what they’re grateful for, what they’ve had to adjust to, and how COVID-19 has changed their lives.

More than 200,000 Australians live in residential aged care permanently and while no two people’s experiences are the same and one home often houses a variety of circumstances, there are usually some common themes.

“Even though I never thought this would be my reality until I was a fair bit older, compared to the alternatives, I know it’s the best place for me,” says 72-year-old Desmond, who lives in an aged-care home in Melbourne.

Desmond moved into aged care at the beginning of 2020 following the breakdown of his 42-year marriage.

“My only other option would have been moving into a share house, but the thought of living with people I didn’t know and couldn’t trust and who might be up at all hours making noise really worried me,” he says. “Here, it’s comfortable, quiet and I’m well looked after.”

 I’ve got some lovely friends in here and I’m safe, which I’m so grateful for.

Seventy-year-old Carol says she values the sense of security she feels living in aged care, too. A survivor of a crime which left her in a wheelchair, Carol has been in the same residence for nearly nine years.

“I’ve got some lovely friends in here, I know the staff really well and I know I’m safe, which I’m so grateful for after what I’ve been through.” 

Adapting to a new normal even before the pandemic

“New normal” might be a phrase we’re all familiar with now thanks to how our lives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but Desmond says he, like many residents living in aged care, had first-hand experience of finding a new normal long before COVID-19 hit.

“Going from living at home with my wife to a place with 30 or 40 other residents, many who are living with dementia, took some getting used to,” he says. “And little things like having no control over what’s cooked for lunch or dinner was also quite hard to cope with, at first.

“But on the other hand, until recently, I could come and go as I please, catching up with friends for a coffee and popping into the bank or the supermarket to do some shopping. To be honest, I was surprised that I was able to maintain so much of my independence living in aged care.”

Across much of Australia, life might be continuing a return to a 'Covid normal', but not everyone is jumping in feet first even if restrictions have eased in their state. In this article, we look at how older people can reconnect at their own pace and in ways they feel comfortable with.

Older Australian on a video call

And then COVID-19 happened…

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of every Australian to some extent, but even as restrictions have eased in most parts of the country, some remain in place, particularly in Melbourne.

Surveys show that more than 80 per cent of aged-care home residents – Carol and Desmond included – support those restrictions, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to live with.

“I am still fearful of the virus,” says Carol. “Not just for me – some of the other residents here have breathing problems and I’m worried for them, too. So, I agree that we still have to take every precaution and be careful to keep everyone safe.”

 Staying in contact with people is what’s keeping me going.

Desmond agrees. “The freedom this home allowed me was one of the main reasons I chose it,” he says. “Now, not being able to get out among the local community wherever and whenever I like, to see my friends and do my own shopping isn’t what I bargained for. But I understand it’s necessary and it’s a comfort knowing we’re as protected as we can be from the virus.”

Continuing to cope

For Carol, whose family live too far away to visit, listening to music and colouring in are enjoyable pastimes.

“When I’m colouring, I have to focus, concentrate and use my imagination so it’s a great escape. Being in Melbourne, waiting for the daily updates about virus numbers tends to make me quite anxious, but colouring calms my mind.”

And even though Desmond can’t get out to see his friends as freely or as often as he’d like, he hasn’t lost touch with them. “I’m always on the phone,” he says. “Between my mates and my family, it doesn’t stop ringing. It’s great.

“Staying in contact with people is what’s keeping me going and I haven’t spoken as much, or as frequently, to my kids and my brother and sister in years. That’s been a silver lining of all this.”

Whatever your personal situation, it’s important to stay connected and keep up healthy habits, this helpful guide offers ways to stay well and positive as COVID-19 continues to be part of life.

If you have a query related to whether you can have visitors, or whether you can visit a friend or family member, in aged care, the Older Persons Advocacy Network can help. Call 1800 237 981, 6am-10pm (AEDT), seven days a week.

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