Less than one in six adults (15 per cent) of people have spoken to older members of their family about their future care needs and know their exact wishes, according to research by care provider Helping Hands.
The study shows that an additional 28% have spoken about it casually with their older relatives, but well over half the population (57%) have not even broached the topic.
The research found that of those people whose parents subsequently needed care, only 38% say that they had conversations about the possibility of it at the right time. One in five people (21%) whose parents have needed care say they wish their mum or dad had received professional help sooner and 10% say that if they had a conversation about it earlier, it could have prevented accidents in the home.
Only a quarter (25%) of those whose mum or dad have needed care were the first to raise the issue with their parents, but even so, they are almost twice as likely to have initiated the conversation than their parents themselves – just one in seven (14%) people say their parents first brought the subject up. The most common person to raise the subject was their parents’ doctor or other health professional, the instigator of the issue in just over a third (34%) of cases.
The research reveals how sensitive a subject the need for care can be. Of those people who have had an older relative needing care, only a third (34%) say they were happy to speak to them about it. A quarter (26%) say they were worried their relative would be uncomfortable having the conversation, and a similar number (24%) say they didn’t want their relative to think they were unwilling to help them. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they were worried about offending their relative while almost one in ten (9%) thought the conversation would lead to an argument.
Many people put off discussing the need for care with their relative because of concerns over how they themselves would react – 24% say they felt uncomfortable, while one in five (19%) say they were upset having the conversation.
Unfortunately, families not broaching the subject of care can not only lead to delays in elder generations getting the support they need but can cause additional emotional turmoil for their offspring. Over a third (37%) of people say they have regrets about not talking to their loved ones about later life care at the right time.
While younger generations may feel that the onus of discussing the issue of future care falls on them, Helping Hands encourages older family members to be clear with their children and grandchildren about their wishes. Just one in ten (10%) people over 55 say they have spoken to their younger relatives to let them know exactly what their expectations are – while less than a quarter (23%) have spoken about it casually.
Andy Hogarth, CEO at Helping Hands, says: “The potential need for future care and support in the home is a conversation that many families find difficult to have and it’s unlikely to be a single discussion, but lots of conversations over a period of time. It’s important to have patience and be prepared to bring in support gradually – that way elderly relatives can get used to the idea without being overwhelmed by a sudden change in lifestyle. Having lots of conversations will also allow families to address the common obstacles we see in these situations one by one, rather than having to deal with all the challenges at the same time.”
The research found clear lessons from the experience of those people whose elder relatives have required care.
A relative needing care is undoubtedly a turbulent time for a family, so it is not surprising that there are some negative feelings about it. One in eight (12%) said they felt as though they had failed their relative, while others said it made them feel as though they couldn’t cope or as though they weren’t enough for their relative any more (both 6%).
However, once the subject had been broached and the relative is receiving care and support, it is clear that in the majority of cases, the whole family benefits. Half (51%) of people say they felt calmer knowing their relative was being professionally looked after, while a third (34%) were relieved to have help and a quarter (26%) relieved to have some pressure taken off.