At Christmas time each year, many families start to worry about how elderly parents are coping. Family life is always busy and the Christmas holidays may be the only time they have all year to observe mum or dad, and start to investigate options. It is very common for families to start researching options online during the summer holidays.

Do elderly parents just need some in-home support services?  Is it time to sell the family home and move into a retirement community, or does your loved one really need to be admitted to an aged care facility?

The aged care system is complex, and many consumers initially confuse aged care support services with independent living options such as retirement villages. There are many issues to consider around the level of support needed now and in the future, and eligibility for government subsidised services, as well as impact on age pension eligibility.

Even though many older people say they’d prefer to stay in their own home with support services for as long as possible, increasing social isolation and loneliness becomes a big problem for many older people. And too many people put off the decision to downsize while they are fit and active and better able to make the move, instead waiting until health issues give them no other option.

Home care places and aged care facilities are funded by government, with eligibility subject to means testing and a government assessment of the person’s care needs. Government waiting lists vary from area to area, and private aged care services may be available for those who can afford them.

Retirement communities with independent living or assisted care apartments can offer a good intermediate option – combining the benefits of in-home support services if needed with more social activities. It can also be a much more practical option for "ageing in place" - starting with an independent living apartment, and then adding more support services if needed, without moving again - offering peace of mind for families.

But for those who need high levels of nursing care in a residential setting, moving to an aged care facility may be the option of last resort.

The first step for most families is to start researching all types of options available in the local area, get a short list together, then narrow it down from there.

Family members are unfamiliar with the technical jargon when they start this search, and not equipped to understand what level of care services are available or needed.  So it's important that they can very easily find any services that may be relevant in their local area in their early online research.