When the elderly enter an aged care home, it is not just those individuals who are impacted. This change in lifestyle also affects family members and it is therefore important to understand how to manage the effects of aged care on the family as a group.

The impact of aged care can affect families in different ways. There are cultural considerations that must be in place. Finding the best ways to communicate, identify support structures, determine the role of family in palliative care and identify barriers of effective communication is very important.

All of these factors can cause different reactions in family members and must be managed accordingly. Often it is the staff of the homes themselves who will see the changes occurring.

The Guidelines for a Palliative Approach in Residential Aged Care found the following:

1.     The best thing staff can do is involve the family to assist with symptom distress. Communicating and assisting with the physical care needs of the resident can improve the aged care team members’ relationship with the family.

2.     Health deterioration and the death of a resident may impact the physical and emotional health of family members. Family members’ depression and health problems should, therefore, be informally monitored by the aged care team and, where appropriate, provide support to offset the effects of care giving stress.

3.     Families appreciate good communication with the aged care team and affirmation that their input is valued. Permission to withdraw at times from the care-giving situation is strongly appreciated. When these needs are addressed families experience increased satisfaction with care.

4.     Family conferences are offered for emotional support to family members and an opportunity to discuss concerns about the resident’s illness and ageing process. Such discussions benefit families and carers alike, and ultimately improves the quality of life for the residents.

5.     Education about cultural diversity is recommended for aged care teams to enhance understanding of care preferences of residents from varying cultural groups. Efforts to accommodate these preferences promote individualised care that benefits the residents’ and their families’ wellbeing.

6.     Providing information about a palliative approach to residents from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in their own language enhances their sense of belonging.

Family members can refer to any person who is part of the central core in the support network of individuals, which includes carers. Palliative care can be difficult for carers and family members alike, and communication is the key to living through difficult times more comfortably.