When we picture a resident in an aged care facility, we generally think of an elderly person. We don’t usually think of a young person, despite the fact that there are thousands of young people living in nursing homes all around Australia.
Young people usually end up living in an aged care facility because they have experienced a catastrophic event, such as a spinal injury or stroke, and their time in hospital or rehabilitation has come to an end.
They are forced to make the difficult decision about their next step, their ‘new normal’.
Despite the fact that some families do decide to move a young person into an aged care facility, research has established that living in aged care is not ideal for younger people.
Aged care facilities are specifically designed to cater for older residents; the support and services that younger people need are often not available.
Younger people living in aged care facilities also often become socially isolated and struggle to feel part of a community.
According to Professor of acquired brain injury at La Trobe University, Jacinta Douglas, the National Disability Insurance Scheme presents an opportunity to reduce the number of young people living in residential aged care.
What can be done?
No time, no knowledge, no choice
Professor Douglas said families are often forced to make the decision about their next step with ‘no time, no knowledge and no choice’.
They are often pressured to move on from where they are, they may not be able to access information about services they could use, and there are limited choices available to them.
“Many seek further rehabilitation; they want and need more time to recover, but are all too often told that their ‘time’s up’, said Professor Douglas.
Providing better resources and options for young people living in aged care
Professor Douglas said there are a number of measures that could be introduced that would help families who find themselves in this difficult situation.
Advocates could be employed to help families with emotional support and practical information about the options available to them. Preferably these services would be delivered by a person, but even easy-to-read written information would be helpful, Professor Douglas said.
“Delivering information verbally and ad hoc is known to increase confusion and distress for individuals and families,” Professor Douglas said.
Greater access to longer-term rehabilitation programs could not only improve outcomes, lessening the need for aged care accommodation, but could also remove some of the urgency from making decisions about the next step.
For those young people who do end up living in an aged care facility, they should be provided with more opportunities to be assessed.
“An absence of reliable opportunities for review can heighten the emotional distress that a young person living in aged care may experience,” said Professor Douglas.