Caring for kaumātua

The Te Ipu Aronui site is dedicated to whānau who provide care to an adult or kaumātua at end of life, although not all kaumātua want or need support from their whānau. Many kaumātua like to maintain their independence for as long as possible and this may mean they wish to assume all decision making over their health care.

After many years of caring for her whānau, Whaea Tina decided that it was time to put herself first; it was important for her to be independent now that she had a life-limiting cancer diagnosis. Whaea Tina decided to be as independent as possible and to protect her children and grandchildren from shouldering the day to day responsibility of her care:

[I]t’s myself. You know, I had to wake myself up to get up in the morning, I had to get up and feed myself, so it was basically myself that made me go through this – this bucket list, yeah….Well I thought of it as ‘don’t stop your life’ [and] to ‘pick up my life to help me start a new journey that I’m going through’. It was, my journey and [I wanted my children and grandchildren] to carry on with their own life. If I need you, I’ll ask for help.

After the initial shock and impact of receiving a life limiting diagnosis for example, kaumātua will most likely want to carry on living their lives to the fullest.

Joy (health professional) commented that receiving news of a diagnosis heightens the emotional state and for most whānau they just want to have a cry and to go home. Whānau will then start to think about what to do next:

But sometimes they just like to go away- go home. Usually, the first thing they do is leave the room, go have a cup of tea and they have a cry. That’s the first thing they do, for most of them, that’s all they want to do... And then… they all say, ‘oh yes well we did that, we came home, we had a cry' and then they picked themselves up. And then that’s when they start moving forward [thinking] ‘what’s the next plan?’ You know. Because when they hear the diagnosis and, and it’s all that emotional stuff that’s going on for them. And then they think 'okay, so where do we go to from here?' And then there’s that, and then what they focus on then is when they come to oncology is around, they want to live. So… the treatment. You know whatever gives them hope. Especially treatment, they will follow on from there.

Many kaumātua will regularly travel to hui (gatherings) to support various whānau, hapū and iwi events for as long as they can. Kaumātua who play a cultural role within their whānau and community will most likely continue working until they are no longer able to travel to attend hui (meetings); many older Māori contribute to hui (meetings) and formal ceremonies such as tangihanga (funerals), and kawemate (unveilings). However, this can all change when their health deteriorates, and they need help from their whānau.

Whānau help to manage chronic and complex illnesses by driving kaumātua to medical appointments, managing prescribed medications, supporting end of life planning (legal advice for wills, Enduring Power of Attorney, Advanced Care Planning, Māori Land Courts etc.) in addition to providing practical care at home. As their health condition advances, the kaumātua may want whānau to provide their personal care as well. They may want to ask a spouse, a trusted son, daughter or mokopuna (grandchild) who they feel particularly close to.

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