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Your relative’s health might stay the same for years, or their situation may change in just a few months. In some cases, change can be sudden and unexpected.

On this page you can find information on:

1. Preparing for the future
2. Why changes occur
3. Gradual decline
4. Sudden decline
5. Preparing for the future
6. Making a living will

Why changes occur

Change is a natural part of life and growing older. A person’s physical health, such as their eyesight, hearing or mobility, may deteriorate over time. A person’s memory may also deteriorate as they get older, which could lead to them needing help.

Older people can also be more susceptible to illnesses and accidents, such as falls. Changes might be permanent or temporary. They might happen suddenly or very gradually over time.  As your relative’s health changes, they might need different levels of care and support.

Gradual decline

More often than not, changes in physical or mental health will happen very slowly. Your relative’s mental health might deteriorate gradually due to old age or the slow onset of a condition such as Alzheimer’s. In these cases, it can be difficult to spot that their care needs have changed.

You might realise that your relative is less mobile than they used to be, or that they are finding it more difficult to do everyday things. Because changes have happened gradually, it might take you and your relative some time to identify that there is a problem that needs addressing. However, this should give you more time to research and plan appropriate care.

Sudden decline

If your relative suffers from an unexpected illness or injury – such as a stroke or a fall – the change in their mental or physical health might be sudden. They might struggle to carry out certain tasks that they managed without a problem the week before, or they might not be able to get around at all. For information on dealing with emergencies that result in your relative going to hospital, see Dealing with a medical emergency.

In these circumstances, it will be obvious that your relative’s needs have changed and that they need a different level of help or support. You might need to take action quickly to get the right care in place.

Preparing for the future

As care needs often change over time, it’s a good idea to think about the future when making plans for a relative’s care. Try to think ahead and keep your options open by choosing care options that can be changed without too much difficulty. For example, if your relative is moving into sheltered housing, you might choose a place that offers extra care, so that it's easier for your relative to access personal care in the event that they need it in the future.

Alternatively, if you’re choosing a care home that offers personal care, think about choosing one that also offers a higher level of nursing care, so that this option is available later on without them having to move. Of course, this level of choice won’t always be available, but it is worth bearing in mind.

But don’t forget that the local authority will only fund current and eligible needs, so if there are any additional costs associated with these choices, your relative would have to fund them privately.

Making a living will

Your relative might find it helpful to put his or her wishes for their future care in writing, in what is called a living will. This legally binding document can come into effect if your relative loses the mental capacity to make decisions about their care in the future. Which? Money has more advice about living wills and how to set one up.

More information

Page last reviewed: May 2017
Next review due: October 2019