By Angela Catterns

My sister and I have been shopping together. It’s something we don’t usually do. I love her dearly, but we have completely different taste. Lately, we’ve been shopping for a nursing home for our mother.  She’s 93, has just been diagnosed with diabetes and has been living at home  - our lovely family home - for more than 50 years.

But she needs an enormous amount of help to stay there.

A nurse comes every morning to give her an insulin injection, a carer visits twice a day to help her shower, change and get about. My sister and I visit every other day to make sure she eats, take her to doctors’ appointments and because she loves to see us.

It’s becoming untenable. She doesn’t want to move of course, though increasingly she’s unable to enjoy the pleasures of living at home. Can’t cook, rarely goes out, doesn’t entertain or even see friends. As she says, they’re all dead.

So full-time residential care looks like the best alternative, in our opinion and that of her doctors.

When you start the process of shopping for nursing homes, you enter a world of confusion. There’s low care, high care, dementia care and retirement living.

I’ve come to realise this is Very Big Business.

In Australia, residential aged care is a $14 billion industry.

The system employs around 350,000 staff across more than 2000 providers. There’s the Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Uniting Church, the Baptists, Bupa, Allity, Ramsay, Moran, and a group called Twilight Aged Care who really should change their name.

I have no idea who to trust or where to go. Right about now, we could do with a consultant.  Someone  who knows the options and where the vacancies are, who can assess our needs and point us in the right direction.

It’s no wonder that aged care advice is set to become one of the fastest growing and lucrative of all advice sectors.  With the ageing of the population, the number of Australians aged 65 and over will rise rapidly, from roughly 3 million today to over 8 million by 2050. By then, it’s expected that more than 3.5 million people will need access to aged care services.

After days and weeks navigating hundreds of confusing websites my sister and I arrived at a short list. We made appointments and went off in search of somewhere to move Mum.

The first place we visited looked like a suburban house from the outside. Inside, we’re greeted by a lovely matron and the smell of disinfectant.  About 50 oldies live there in an unlovely home with lino floors and fluoro lights. Some of the residents were parked in a room where they sat in front of a loud TV wearing large bibs around their necks - two stars.

The second place we visited was brand new and we were shown around by a charming sales and marketing consultant who was on a short-term contract to fill the place up as quickly as possible. The smallish rooms were carpeted and individually heated, with a flat screen TV on the wall, a king single bed, an armchair and a large well-designed en suite - five stars.

The system of paying for aged care accommodation changed on July 1, 2014.  You can now pay via a RAD - a refundable accommodation deposit or a DAP - a daily accommodation payment. A RAD is partially refunded when the resident moves on or dies. We were told that’s two and a half years, on average.

The two-star home required a bond of $250,000, the five-star cost $800,000.

In addition to the accommodation RAD or DAP you also pay a basic daily fee of no more than $47.49, or 85% of the single rate of basic Age Pension (indexed twice a year in line with that pension), to cover day-to-day living costs.

My sister and I visited a few more possibilities but each time we’d go back to find our wily old Mum had improved a little and the whole exercise was looking more futile with each passing day.

I may decide to become an aged care consultant.  It looks like a business worth getting into.

However my 93-year-old mother will continue to live at home.