My mother, Marion, was widowed when she was in her 40s. When she eventually re-partnered it was in a platonic friendship with a man who had never married and had no children.
In their long life together, they always maintained separate bedrooms but enjoyed a friendly and mutually supportive partnership. This worked well for them both but proved difficult in later life when we needed to find an aged care facility. Their wish was to remain living together but aged care facilities are often designed around couples or single people – i.e. one bedroom.
Mum was interested in moving into aged care long before her partner. She liked the idea of living independently in a retirement complex where she could meet new people and continue her interests in a supportive environment. Her partner resisted, however, and we didn’t pursue it.
After a series of small strokes in her early 80s, Mum was left in a diminished state and we had to find an aged care facility quickly. We were incredibly lucky to find a two-bed apartment – which can be difficult to find - in a larger complex and which also offered high-care rest home facilities for when the time came.
With hindsight I wish we had discussed options with them and supported them to make the move much earlier than they did. An earlier move when they were both active would have meant better opportunities for friendships and participation in the many activities on offer.
When they finally did move they were quite frail and less interested in socialising and participating in events. The aged care complex they moved into had impressive lounges and foyers but the benefits were largely wasted on my mother and her partner. Their apartment was comfortable, functional and welcoming, which proved really important as this was where they spent nearly all of their time as they grew increasingly frail.
"An earlier move when they were both active would have meant better opportunities for friendships and participation in the many activities on offer."
The complex was very close to where they originally lived which meant they could maintain some of their old routines and visit the same shopping centre when they first moved. Although many of their social links they had in the area had gone – close friends had died or moved into care in other parts of town – the geographical links and memories were in place, which also helped with the transition to aged care. It was also close to where my brothers lived which meant they could drop in regularly and keep an eye on their welfare.
Mum and her partner died within a few months of each other. Mum spent her last few months in the rest home but the disruption was minimal as she was familiar with the surroundings and many of the staff, who were attentive and kind to her and welcoming to us.
As her condition deteriorated, senior medical staff were excellent at keeping us informed. Because we were familiar with the complex and knew many of the staff, we already had good lines of communication and this was a great help.
To help in enabling discussions about end of life, I would recommend Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. It is an interesting and helpful book that includes discussions of end-of-life, hospice and aged care in the US. The questions it raises are applicable to Australia.