If your elderly parents needed support after time spent in hospital or a fall at home, would you be able to care for them?
It’s impossible to know what your life will look like as you age, but it’s probable that at some point the health system will play a vital role in your well-being. The people who care for you can make a tremendous impact, whether it be a routine check-up or a medical emergency.
About two weeks ago, Gold Coast resident Jonathan Layton’s life turned upside down. The 80-year-old widower, who was born in England, worked as a sales executive in one of the world’s biggest oil companies and Britain’s Royal Mail until he retired.
“Looking back at it, it was very interesting,” he reflects.
He moved to Australia 15 years ago to be closer to three of his children and has immersed himself into the community as an active and passionate volunteer.
“Marathons, golf tournaments, you name it – I was a volunteer. One thing I do every Saturday is we have a 5km run, Park Run, in Paradise Point on the Gold Coast. I was one of the organisers. We get a lot of people, sometimes up to about 200. The good weather helps.”
Then one day he suddenly went into cardiac arrest.
The moment everything changed
Mr Layton was treated at Gold Coast University Hospital, but due to the seriousness of his condition, he couldn’t immediately return home when he was discharged. Unsure of what to do, his son made a series of enquiries, and eventually settled on Tweed Fairways.
It’s his first time in an aged-care facility, but he says the experience has been “marvellous”.
“I’m here for about three weeks to recuperate,” Mr Layton tells the Daily Telegraph.
“It’s been excellent, I couldn’t imagine a better place. As far as living accommodation goes, it’s first-class. As far as care goes, I know that if I ever had a problem, they’d look after me.”
So far, his recovery is going well, but he’s been careful not to overdo it. He laughs when he says he’s spent the majority of his time going on short walks and reading.
“Not 5km walks every morning, just short walks,” he says.
“All of the kids have been up to visit, they live in Main Beach, Paradise Point and Hope Island. I’ve got five grandkids here, one in England,” he says.
“I think the whole experience has just made me realise that people are very kind.”
Why respite care is critical for many families
Australia has about 2.7 million unpaid carers. About 856,000 of those are “primary carers”, usually relatives, who personally shoulder the responsibility for a loved one’s care.
It’s a huge responsibility and commitment, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates the total value of the work carers do equates to about $60.3 billion each year.
Sometimes, however, a person’s needs might exceed their family’s available time or skill level. Other times, a person might not have any family living nearby, or their primary carers might need a well-earned break.
That’s where respite care comes in. As Australia’s population continues to age, respite is an increasingly important part of the health system.
Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Pathways to permanent residential aged care report, published in 2017, indicate that about 39 per cent of people who enter the aged care system first use respite.
People who need it spend an average of 1.6 months in care before returning home.
The power of humour
However, respite care isn’t just important for Australia’s senior citizens. For example, at 68 years of age, Denise Toshack is considerably younger than most of her neighbours at The Sanctuary, in Brisbane.
It’s clear the retired Commonwealth Bank employee, originally from Grafton in northern New South Wales, has a strong sense of humour, joking about giving nurses a fright in her electric wheelchair.
Ms Toshack has an autoimmune disease that is steadily progressing, and recently cost her both legs and a number of her fingers.
“It’s an awful thing, but you’ve got to allow yourself to have a laugh about it. What’s the point in being an old crank and whinging? No-one will want to come and see you,” she laughs.
“I love a good joke, I’ve been in the hospital so many times in the last year, and I’ve got my favourite nurses. The girls are all quite young and we have a little chat when they come in. We have a good laugh.”
Ms Toshack doesn’t have any local family members who can help while she’s recovering from surgery, so like Mr Layton, she chose to spend some time in respite accommodation.
“I can’t do anything for myself, so this is ideal. I just had the fingers taken off my right hand. I’m right-handed, so things have been tough, but the girls are great. They help me do things like going to the toilet. Just little things.”
Meantime, it hasn’t diminished her social life one bit. She has two local friends, who she says drop in “all the time”. She is also going out tonight, and tomorrow night.
“I’m doing as much as I can,” she says cheerily.
Original story was published on heraldsun.com.au