Valmai Walk is nearly 89 and having a tonne of fun. The great-great-grandmother has been living in BlueCare's Riverlea aged care home for the past four years and loving every minute of it.

"It wasn't a hard decision to come here … I didn't want to be a burden on my children," she said.

Valmai, who grew up on a Bundaberg sugarcane farm, has five children, 12 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

She had been living at home with the help of one of her daughters until it became a bit too much for them both.

"It was a bit scary at first but everything is good now."

Valmai is clearly the life of the party around Riverlea aged care home, her loud and infectious laughter drawing people to her, as we chat in her room. Nurse Brenda pops in to find out who won the Scrabble.

Valmai certainly makes full use of the amenities, being a keen participant in regular games of bingo and hoy.

"They put on lovely concerts and bus trips, as well, and you can go to church here, too."

The doctor visits her in her room, as does her Lutheran minister, and an optician calls regularly.

The BlueCare nurses and carers also provide a regular grooming service, keeping fingernails and toenails just so, and Valmai has access to a hairdresser, dietitian, occupational therapist and pathology service, all in the privacy of her own room.

To top it all off she has regular visits from her family and has made a load of friends in Riverlea. To say she is content is an understatement.

Life-changing experience

Not all residents in a residential aged care community are as sprightly and engaged as Valmai.

As she says, "not everyone can be on their feet".

But BlueCare's skilled and caring employees and volunteers are there to help vulnerable people live life their way, whatever their circumstances.

Tania Napijalo knows this first hand.

Every day for 18 months she visited her mum, Monehu, at Riverlea, where her quality of life was the best it could be leading up to her passing in 2015 at the age of 69.

It was a life-changing experience that inspired a career change. A mother of two young sons, Tania, 40, has given up her career in retail to work at Riverlea as a carer while she studies nursing.

"I was coming here every day for a couple of hours but I felt helpless," she said. "I was giving her my time but wasn't doing anything practical."

Keeping her mother at home wasn't an option.

"Even if she had stayed at home I just wouldn't have known what to do," Tania said.

Now Tania is playing her part and has seen new residents come in who, in her words, "weren't able to look after themselves well" and whose lives have improved markedly.

Range of care services

BlueCare's experience and skill isn't deployed only in aged care homes. The not-for-profit organisation is one of Queensland's largest providers of in-home residential aged care, disability services and retirement living.

For 70 years, BlueCare has provided extensive support to people who wish to stay in their own homes.

It tailors a care plan for residents depending on their specific needs. That could mean helping with domestic chores such as cleaning and gardening, shopping, and grooming … or giving a loved one a break from the routine of caring for you.

And BlueCare works with residents to adapt their individual care plans as their situations change.

BlueCare also specialises in helping people with a disability meet their goals and achieve greater independence and quality of life, while offering respite care so a loved one is engaged and connected while their principal carer takes time out to recharge their batteries.

An emotional decision

Asking for help is hard for many people. They often don't want to be a burden, leave the home they love or be seen to be anything short of capable. All of those factors mean that making the decision to access support services can be emotionally charged and overwhelming.

Kathryn Pearce, Riverlea's Assistant Integrated Service Manager, knows it can be fraught but urges anyone considering transitioning to an aged care home to do their due diligence.

Kathryn Pearce encourages anyone wanting more information about aged care, to just ask.

"Come and have a tour, come and meet the staff, meet the residents, have a look at the rooms and the activities … and then you'll get a feel for the place," she said.

"Just coming around and hearing the laughter, hearing how people are interacting with the residents, watching the activities go on … visitors go 'Gosh, this is quite nice!' "

Talk to anyone - such as Kathryn, who works in the assisted-living sphere - and the misconceptions about aged care soon reveal themselves.

"This notion that you come in and you don't have any independence, that it's the end of the road, is a myth," Kathryn said.

"People come in here and they have a better life and social life than they did before," she said.

"Change is hard for many of us and if I was in that position I'd be anxious too, but if you come in and have a look at the community, you'll see that it's not the end of the line, there is life … there's life and creativity and happiness."

Valmai can attest to that.

Her advice for anyone new to an aged care home who's feeling a bit lost? "Just join in. Come to the activities. We always make new people feel welcome and make friends with them."

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