Where do you start in helping your ageing parent get care? Here we’ll help you understand how to access aged care services with an ACAT assessment.
Your parent might need help to carry out everyday tasks, or it might be time for them to move into an aged care facility. How do you know what sort of care your ageing parent needs?
You need the key to unlocking aged care services – an ACAT assessment.
Regardless of the level of support they might need, to access government-subsidised aged care services in Australia your parent needs to be assessed by an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT in most Australian States except Victoria where it’s referred to as an Aged Care Assessment Service – ACAS). The assessment is free of charge.
What services does an ACAT provide?
An ACAT only carries out an assessment. It doesn’t provide the actual services.
The aged care services subject to an ACAT include:
- Home care packages to help your parent stay at home (low-level support requirements are assessed through the Regional Assessment Service or RAS, ACAT assessments are for more complex needs. Speaking to the My Aged Care call centre, will help you work out which type of assessment your parent needs)
- Residential aged care to provide a supported place to live (most government subsidised places must have an ACAT assessment to grant entry)
- Respite care for your parent if you as a carer need a break
- Short-term restorative care. This type of care is focused on returning your ageing parent to independence and is usually used when they are transitioning from hospital or recovering from an illness or accident (for up to 8 weeks, twice a year)
- Transition care (additional services required when they have left hospital (for up to 12 weeks).
Your parent will need to be registered with My Aged Care before a comprehensive assessment can be organised. To register, call 1800 200 422 with your parent’s medicare card. Your parent will need to provide their consent for you to be their representative or you will have to have Power of Attorney or Enduring Guardianship if your parent isn’t able to provide consent.
What services are available without an ACAT?
ACAT assessments only cover government subsidised aged care services so your parent won’t need an ACAT to:
- Move into a retirement village
- Receive services offered by charities or volunteer groups such as Meals on Wheels or Rotary, however charities also offer Home Care Packages
- Commonwealth Home Support Programmes, however your parent will need a Regional Assessment Service to access these.
Before the ACAT assessment
The ACAT will contact your ageing parent over the phone to arrange a time to visit them face to face. If you have been listed as their authorised representative, the ACAT will call you. During that call, you or your parent should let the ACAT know if they having any communication difficulties such as hard of hearing, or whether they will require an interpreter. The assessor will ask a few questions to ensure they are safe when they visit (things like are there any pets, is it easy to access the front door etc).
What to have with you at the ACAT assessment
- Your parent’s Medicare number
- Copies of any referrals from doctors (if they referred your parent for the assessment)
- Contact details for your parent’s doctor (your GP) or other health professionals
- Information on any current support your parent receives such as existing assistance from charities like Meals on Wheels, or if they are receiving services under the Commonwealth Home Support Programme.
What happens in an ACAT assessment?
An ACAT will come to your parent’s home (or visit your parent in hospital or aged care residence). The visit usually takes between 45 and 75 minutes.
The ACAT will talk to your parent about how well they are managing with everyday living. You should discuss with your parent beforehand if they would like you, another family member, friend or carer to be with them during the assessment. Some parents would prefer to do it on their own, while others might like to have the extra support. If your parent is like my Dad, they might not want to admit they are having problems to anyone, let alone a stranger. You can help clarify their answers. It also helps your parent to have someone there that can relay or remind your parent what the assessor said after the event. I did this for my Dad which helped the ACAT member during the assessment as I was able to provide background information.
During the visit, the ACAT member:
- Will ask your parent’s permission to conduct the assessment
The assessment can only go ahead if your parent agrees. It took me two rounds to actually get my Dad to agree to have the assessment done. The first time, the ACAT called him to arrange the appointment and he refused. He thought they were trying to sell him something. The second time, they called me first so I called Dad to explain what they were calling about. Then they called him again and he accepted the appointment. But beware, the ACAT will ask again for permission to conduct the assessment at the beginning of the appointment and your parent has the right to refuse again. This might result in them moving down what can be a long waiting list
- May ask your parent’s permission to talk to their doctor to discuss their medical history before they meet with them
The ACAT will talk to the doctor only if your parent agrees and their consent will be recorded by the ACAT. The conversation between the ACAT and your parent’s doctor is useful if your parent has a good relationship with the doctor and the doctor is someone your parent trusts
- Will ask your parent if they wish to apply for approval to receive certain aged care services. They will explain these service options to them and if they want to apply, they will ask [your parent] to sign an application form or the Aged Care Client Record
The My Aged Care Client Record is the official form outlining the information the ACAT uses to determine eligibility for services. You or your parent can access their record through the myGov website.
- Will ask your parent questions about their day-to-day living activities and if they need help with all or some of them. They’ll ask what support your parent already has and if it will continue
My Dad can’t drive so getting someone to take him to the shops or doctor’s appointments during the week when we’re at work is helpful
- Will also want to talk about your parent’s general state of health, their lifestyle and specific health conditions. This will help the ACAT work out how much and what type of help they need
Again, it might be useful to have someone there with your parent or at least a list of their medical conditions as your parent might accidentally omit one or two conditions – mine did
- Will ask about any issues relating to your parent’s home and personal safety
The aim of getting help is to make sure your parent is safe
- Will then talk to your parent about whether they think your parent needs more support so they can keep living in their own home, or if they think your parent might be better supported in an aged care home
The assessor will ask your parent (or you if you’re the representative) to complete an Application for care form
- Will give your parent information about the services that may be available in your parent’s local area and possible costs.
You may also like to search for organisations that can provide services to help at home or aged care homes yourself
I found the information the ACAT provided extremely helpful and it helped smooth the process of getting Dad help
- Will help develop a support plan that covers elements such as:
- your parent’s strengths and difficulties
- your parent’s goals and what they would like to achieve
- what preferences your parent has for services.
What happens after the assessment?
The ACAT will go back to their office and write up a report on the meeting. They will consider your parent’s circumstances and determine if your parent is eligible for government services.
Previously, they would determine what level of care your parent required, (ie low-level or high-level care) however with changes to the aged care system, post July 2014, they will just determine that your parent is eligible for care.
Your parent will then receive an approval letter outlining the services your parent is eligible for and the reasons why. Or if they aren’t eligible, your parent will receive a letter stating why and the letter will tell your parent who to contact to find out about other services they may be eligible for.
Your parent will also receive a copy of their completed My Aged Care Client Record. Your parent should keep a copy (or several) of this completed record because they will need to show this record to organisations to confirm that they are eligible to receive government-subsidised aged care services – your parent might want to give you copies too.
Your parent will also be given written instructions on how to appeal the ACAT decision if they are unhappy with the outcome.
Note there’s usually a waiting period between the assessment, the approval and the time services begin. If your parent needs urgent care, the ACAT will note this and it will be taken into account.
Who conducts the ACAT assessment?
ACATs usually consist of doctors, nurses, social workers or other health care professionals.
How do I organise an ACAT assessment?
Your parent’s doctor or nurse may refer your parent to an ACAT for an assessment if they think they need some extra help. Or if you’re like me and wanted to organise it yourself, you can call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422 to start the process.
Your parent needs to be registered with My Aged Care before they can be assessed. They will need to call My Aged Care on 1800 200 422 and have their Medicare card or number with them to register. You might want to do it for them, or be on the phone to help them. My Aged Care will need to have your parent’s consent for you to be their representative or you will need to supply the paperwork to show you have the legal right to speak for them if they can’t (either Power of Attorney or Guardianship). As part of the registration, you or your parent will be asked a number of questions to work out their care needs and the type of assessment they might need (if any).
Please note, waiting periods usually apply.
Is there an age limit? When can my parent receive an ACAT assessment?
This information wasn’t available on the website so I called the aged care helpline to confirm. I was informed that an ACAT is available to people 65 years and over (previously it was 70). If your parent is younger than this, but needs assistance, I was advised that they should apply for disability services first with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). If they are not approved by the NDIS, you can then approach aged care services. But you must be able to show you have gone to the NDIS first. More information about the NDIS can be found here.
How long is an ACAT approval letter valid for?
With the recent changes to the aged care system, unless the approval is for a specific period of time, your parent’s assessment for Home Care Packages and permanent residential care will remain valid. Previously, it may have had a 12 month expiry.
If the approval is for a specific period of time, your parent will need a new assessment following the expiry date.
Also, if your parent’s personal circumstances or needs change, they may need another assessment. For example, if they have been receiving help in the home through a Home Care Package but they are finding it harder to carry out day-to-day activities and may need extra help, or move, as a result.
ACATs can be a useful ally in helping you care for your ageing parent. The ACAT member that performed my Dad’s assessment called to check in to see how he was going and as a professional was someone I could bounce ideas off when I had questions about Dad’s care.
You will need to be patient though. As you can imagine, with our ageing population demand for these services is high and can take time. It doesn’t hurt to be persistent and check in to see where your parent is on the list from time to time. Also note that if your parent’s circumstances change, such as they’ve been ill, or they’ve had a fall, you should call and update the service on the chance your parent could move up the list.