The following article has been written by the daughter of a resident who currently resides in a federally funded Australian nursing home. The intent of the article is meant as a warning for baby boomers. The writer offers some tips and hints to consider, as well as a personal perspective based on the resident's experience. It articulates some of the problems faced by consumers of aged care in this country.

The article should be read with this in mind. While we are aware that not all facilities operate like the one described in this article, it is a sad fact that Aged Care Crisis does receive many complaints that uncannily enough, contain similar scenarios.

It needs no further introduction. For obvious reasons the name of the author is withheld and forgotten.

Please be aware that in the future you may need to become a resident of a nursing home. You won’t have any choice in which nursing home. Most likely, your children will decide this for you or a Social Worker if you do not have family. No, sorry, you will not be offered rehabilitation! You will be too old, you don’t generate an income and no one is chasing your vote – you don’t matter in our society. Your opinion will be of no value to anyone.

Harsh? Yes, perhaps but this is the system that you’ve allowed politicians to impose on the elderly for many, many years. Should have been paying attention then!

Those of us who have some experience have held our own, personally funded, Royal Commission to provide you with some help to navigate through your old age.

These are hints and tips to help you:

(Please pay attention, as these tips have come at a very heavy personal price for my family).

  • Make sure you have an excellent Power of Attorney set up (you are giving them all your assets and your life is in their hands) – choose very wisely.
  • Get excellent advice about paying a bond to the nursing home. You need to be careful. If the nursing home goes out of business, your bond often slips away too. I think tax payers are apparently quite happy to fix this problem right now (under the "Bond guarantee scheme") but I am not so sure about how they will feel about it in the future.
  • Have your teeth removed before you get old or they will rot in your head.
  • Whether you retain continence or not – is irrelevant. You will be put in nappies and changed (up to) three times a day. (Don’t believe me? Just you wait and see).
  • Do not watch television now. You will be placed in front of a television for at least 10 hours per day (sometimes more depending on how busy the staff are). No, you do not get any choice or say. You may watch the same DVD every day for the entire week. You will watch cartoons and children’s shows because staff are too busy to pay attention to what is on. Anything you ever worried about missing – I am sure you will catch up on over the years. If you walk away, you will be medicated as you are obviously a wanderer and that will not be tolerated.
  • Forget about computer access, email, mobile phone or any gadgets. They are not available, your children won’t agree to the expense or they will go missing (lost or another resident may be a magpie resident who picks up trinkets from every room).
  • Forget about privacy – there is none. Anyone can wander into your room at any time.
  • Whatever happens to you, do not lose your voice – it may be the only thing that is yours that you can still use and have access to. Probably won’t help much as you wont be heard.
  • Many of you are listening to all the advice on things you can do to minimise the risk of Alzheimer’s. Stop that immediately! It is far, far better to lose your mind and not know where you are and what is happening to you. You won’t miss your family as you won’t know who they are. You won’t notice all the things that people lose their mind over in the nursing home anyway. Why prolong the agony?
  • Really work on building up your tolerance to pain in the good years you have left. Nursing homes do not like “whingey” patients who cannot take a little pain. The pain you will endure will be due to rotting teeth, possible skin cancers eating the flesh on your face (yes I’ve seen a woman’s nose disappear), falls (very painful), haemorrhoids (sorry no preventative treatment available), bed sores (staff too busy writing up the chart about your 2 hourly turning to actually do it), skin rashes because your skin not dried properly between folds, sharp, overgrown nails, itchy skin (no baths and medication can have that effect), infections that won’t be treated promptly as no doctor available. Hospital? No, you’re fine.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables now, as you certainly won’t be provided with them in the nursing home. Enjoy wonderfully fresh and tasty home cooked meals. Enjoy eating them with your teeth in – may be a rarity in your future. Savour your good coffee, really enjoy it. You will see nothing that resembles either coffee or food when you are old and need the nutritional benefits.
  • Spend a great deal of time with your family now as they will disappear from the face of the earth when the going gets tough. If you are lucky enough to have children who are concerned about you, make sure they are incredibly tough. They need to be as their heart will be ripped out and there is nothing more painful than a bleeding heart.
  • Sit in a room and look at the wall with your hands folded in your lap or better still tie your feet together and one arm behind your back to experience what it will be like. Really work on developing good skills in patience, helplessness, boredom and loneliness. You will need these to survive but they are also the biggest killers in nursing homes. Also, try working towards the goal of only needing to go to the toilet three times a day. Any more than that and unfortunately, you will be sitting in a very smelly mess for a long, long time – every day.
  • Get used to not having a bath at all, ever again. Practise being showered weekly as you will probably have bed baths with a small bowl of water the rest of the time. Try to lose your sense of smell. Nothing you smell in a nursing home is going to be pleasant.
  • You think you would be a fighter and scream the place down? No, you will only be heavily medicated for your own benefit. Then you can actually enjoy every day staring at the wall or walking along corridors muttering to yourself. Is that not you? Well, there is another alternative. If you don’t toe the line, if you cause problems, if the medication doesn’t work well for you or your body reacts to it – there is the dementia ward. I won’t tell you about that. I only want to warn you, not frighten you to death right now.
  • I know… you’re shaking your head in disbelief! We’ve all been there. It is the 21st century and there are amazing breakthroughs in research and technology.
  • None of these will benefit you. The only whiz bang technology in a nursing home is your buzzer. That’s if it’s not faulty, on the floor, or tucked into a drawer out of your reach. If you do get to press the buzzer, someone will come along and tell you that they will come back to see you after their break. It will be turned off – and forgotten. You won’t have access to it in the TV room and the staff won’t hear you above the television.
  • Just stay calm. Work on developing your courage to a very high level. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to survive just one day in a nursing home. Don’t think that paying a huge bond and lots of money per month will save you. In many cases it’s just window dressing. The air conditioners are where the staff need them and reads well in the glossy colour pamphlet outlining all the wonderful extra services the nursing home provides.
  • You will talk to your doctor? No, he doesn’t visit that nursing home. You will have some doctor who will talk to your carer. They may just have started that day as there is a high turnover as staff are under paid and under valued by management. They may be barely able to speak, let alone read English. Don’t worry - they will tell your doctor what you need.
  • You may be talked over or not listened to. My best advice is to get used to that. Apparently, after a certain age, whatever you say is irrelevant or the medication is making you delusional or you are imagining it.
  • You would run away? No, all doors are locked. It is a prison, just doesn’t have bars on it as they don’t want to scare your relatives.
  • If one day, everything seems different and there are more staff around than you’ve ever seen before and people are actually doing their jobs – be very aware. Fruit bowls and flowers around the nursing home? Room clean? Up out of bed earlier than normal - with your teeth in? Watch out, the accreditation team is obviously arriving soon. Don’t forget to put a smile on your face!

Think this is all a little too much for you? I agree it is. It is even inhumane. It is shameful.

Think there are agencies you can complain to? Not worth the effort. A great deal of time will be wasted but nothing will change as no one seems to have any power to make nursing homes accountable for the care they do not provide.

Your spirit will wither away along with your body. You will become depressed but there is medication for that. It has a side effect of making you extremely thirsty. That wouldn’t be so bad if you could get a drink. If you do get a drink, you will need to go to the toilet more.

Oh, wait that really messes up the three times a day going to the toilet. Your dignity will be gone very soon and the fun-loving, joking staff will laugh to each other about you – right in front of you while they change you.

They’re no different to the rest of society. It’s just a job and the pay is terrible. You want compassion with that? Within a few weeks, you will become weaker and weaker. Poor diet, lack of exercise and losing the will to live take a toll on your body. Add a few falls out of bed and an infection - your time is really running out now.

Don’t worry though, there’s a waiting list for beds. Nursing Homes spend a great deal of money on advertising as they need to have a high turn over of residents to keep their shareholders happy. No one notices the figures, rates or percentages. It is after all, a place to die - no matter what the brochure says.

I know you saw the happy, healthy people digging in a vegetable garden – they were models and it was staged. Have you learnt nothing? Families believe everything in the brochure because they’ve been lulled into believing they have no other option but to place their loved one in a nursing home, as they believe that only the nursing home has the staff to meet your every need 24 hours a day.

The registered nurses shown in the brochure? It’s advertising. Apparently there’s a loophole that nursing homes are exploiting that means they’re not required to have a registered nurse on site. They are "on call". You should have stayed home and rung healthdirect Australia (most states) or Nurse-on-Call (Victoria), - much cheaper and probably just as effective.

Please do not be angry with the government or the media. This is not their fault. They have much more important matters to deal with. It is important for the general public to be inundated by more pressing issues such as Rugby League, the Opposition Minister’s speedos, ensuring quality in education with the MySchool website.

No, there’s no website similar to that for nursing homes!! Are you crazy? If they put out the scores on nursing homes the industry would be crippled! We would have another financial crisis within the aged care facilities and that would not be good for the government.

I know some of you may have marched in the Anzac parade or been to the dawn service this year. It is sad that so much was sacrificed for this generation but somewhere along the line you forgot to teach them the art of gratitude. You may have served your country but you are now getting old and unfortunately, you are redundant. This generation is too busy dealing with all their time saving mechanisms to actually notice what is happening in the world they are going to grow old in.

I’m so sorry that I can’t give you more hope, but that’s something you will lose anyway the moment you step into the nursing home.

I hope this has opened your eyes and your heart a little.

Daughter of High Care Resident

Useful resources and links:

  • healthdirect Australia is a FREE* 24-hour telephone health advice line staffed by Registered Nurses to provide expert health advice. It is currently available to residents of the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. healthdirect is scheduled to be a fully national service by 2011.
    Call: 1800 022 222 (calls from landlines are free. *Mobile charges may apply)
  • NURSE-ON-CALL (Victoria), a phone service that provides immediate, expert health advice from a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    Call 1300 60 60 24 for the cost of a local call from anywhere in Victoria. (Calls from mobile phones may be charged at a higher rate.)

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