As our parents age, the responsibility often falls to the children to help care for them when they can no longer take care of themselves. Sometimes this involves simply checking in on them, scooping snow from their walks or mowing their lawn and other times it can involve helping them with daily living tasks or even helping them make the decision to move from their homes into a retirement community.
If your senior loved ones are getting to the age where decisions for extra care may need to be made, there are a number of things to keep in mind. We’ve asked our experts for their advice and tips on helping you assist your loved one to live life to the fullest!
Staying in the Home
Lee Nyberg with Home Care Assistance states, “As the holidays come to a close, many families open their eyes to the realization that their older parents or relatives are having trouble. The first weeks of January are always our busiest time for calls. When families get together once a year, that’s when they see that Mom or Dad isn’t doing too well. Suddenly, they see senior care as an emergency and we’re here to help.”
“Nearly one in six Americans has a relative who is living alone but can’t perform daily living activities without assistance,” continues Lee Nyberg. “An estimated 7 million of them live an hour or a more away from this relative. Such needs can go unnoticed for months. Seniors themselves are often the last to realize or admit that they need help, especially to their own children. This is especially true for embarrassing bodily or memory issues. Over the years of short weekly phone calls, occasional letters and twice yearly visits, many symptoms get masked or go unnoticed. Most of the physical and mental challenges that affect seniors are not medically related. Common frailty and even chronic illness can’t be solved by a hospital stay. Unfortunately, these very same issues can make it very tough for seniors to live independently alone at home. Nevertheless, the inability to perform such basic daily activities shouldn’t force an older adult into a facility. This also shouldn’t force families to resort to the role of primary caregiver, especially over long distances.”
“The best alternative is to hire an in-home caregiver,” concludes Nyberg. “This is becoming the most popular solution. Of the $3.5 billion in long-term insurance benefits last year, 43 percent was for home care. That’s higher than what assisted living facilities received, and much higher than nursing home care. Unlike private caregivers who advertise in the classifieds, a full-service home care agency makes a wiser choice. Agencies like Home Care Assistance handle all the aspects of hiring and managing a caregiver. They conduct thorough checks of criminal backgrounds, DMV records and legal work status. Their caregivers are bonded and insured. Plus, they can provide substitute caregivers with little notice in case of illness or emergencies.”
Moving Out of the Home
“Most older Americans will remain active participants in the lifestyle they have chosen,” states Larry VanHunnik with Milder Manor. “However, when a life changing event such as a health scare, loss of social structure, or anything that causes an altered lifestyle occurs, a change should be considered. Whenever older people experience loss of physical power, isolation, loneliness, or are emotionally drained, they would likely benefit from a community with like-minded individuals. Most seniors would benefit from the services offered in a community that can provide physical, social, emotional and spiritual support. Minor miracles happen daily in those communities that have a vision of creating a living environment that radiates love, peace, spiritual contentment, dignity and safety while encouraging physical independence. Individuals and their families are often amazed at the extraordinary results from such move.”
“We’ve had many success stories in our community of people who were failing at home but began to thrive upon their arrival in our assisted living community,” adds Sara Engelhaupt with The Lexington Retirement Community. “One success story is that of a woman who had early dementia and ended up taking all of her weekly meds at once which caused her to end up in the hospital due to an unintentional drug overdose. This was the turning point for this woman and her family. It took that big of an ordeal for the family to realize that Mom needed assistance. Upon release from the hospital, she moved into our community. She now receives the proper meds at the right time by our caring staff. Not only is her health better, but her family can rest assured that she is getting her needs met. It has created a sense of peace for everyone involved. This woman has been able to return to her independent lifestyle with the simple administration of medications.”
“The examples of seniors improving in retirement communities are endless,” comments Amy Fish with Gateway Senior Living. “There are times when a senior moves to our campus after years of living alone or after experiencing a recent loss of a spouse. The socialization that occurs at Gateway Senior Living is a significant positive example of how this move improves their overall well-being. Access to social programs, entertainment events, day outings to various program or community functions all contribute to an improved quality of living. In the same respect, having access to chef-prepared meals with a varied selection of choices, is another positive improvement for some seniors who just don’t want to cook food for themselves. Another example would be the available access to our limousine to accommodate their transportation needs. Having access to their medical appointments, community clubs or activities or just being able to get their shopping complete is a significant positive improvement to their overall quality of life.”
“I have seen many seniors whose lives have been enriched by moving into our communities, including my own grandmother,” says Kayla Schaf with Legacy Retirement Communities. “Seniors can have the privacy of their own residence and live the life they have always wanted, but they also have direct access to help if they need it. If one of our residents is experiencing a health issue, he or she can go directly to our Director of Nursing. It’s the same with other issues such as maintenance, transportation and nutrition…support at their fingertips! In our communities we strive to make our residents really feel like they are a part of something- part of our family. They have a purpose and feel needed. The value of family is truly where the Legacy Retirement Communities all got started. Jerry Joyce was wanting the best for his mother and created the Legacies just for her.”
Deb Maguire, LPN, Chief Operating Officer at The Waterford at College View states, “Our number one goal is to allow those folks with heavier care needs be able to continue to enjoy life in a smaller homelike setting where the staff get to know and serve them like they were family. We offer limited to total assist with all activities of daily living, two person assist transfers, incontinency and catheter cares provided, and cares through end of life with hospice care. We make you feel appreciated and cared for, giving you a sense of safety and security. Whether we like to admit it or not, the aging process changes us. Our ability to process information decreases with age. What we have learned is life experience is an amazing teacher, and older adults have a lot of it. So when working with them, keep these tips in mind:
• Don’t rush seniors into a decision
• Check in often during the conversation to make sure they are with you
• Don’t inundate them with large amounts of information
• Show respect for their life experience
We are here to help you through the healthcare field maze making sure you choose the best placement for your family member to ensure they get the quality of care they deserve. We offer one and two bedroom apartments, private suites, and early to mid 2012 a new addition of a Memory Care unit.”
Making the Decision
Sara Engelhaupt with The Lexington says, “If the adult children can do preliminary research on the types of senior living options available for their parents and narrow down those choices for the seniors, that will help tremendously. It can be such a daunting task to start the search, especially for the senior, that having someone narrow it down to a few choices for them to pick from is a much better selection process. The adult children should tour each community and then maybe pick the best 2-3 for their loved one to see. Take the seniors for a tour of the selected communities, interact with the staff and residents or maybe even join them for a meal. Oftentimes in assisted living, it’s the people that truly make the place. You can tell a lot about the community by the people who live and work there. Make sure that you and your parent(s) feel it’s a place where they will fit in, feel secure and develop new relationships.”
“I think that the best advice we can give to adult children is to be supportive and get involved,” adds Kayla Schaf with Legacy Retirement Communities. “Ask questions- lots of questions. Open up the dialogue: ‘Mom we really care about you and we want you to enjoy your life. Here are some things we are concerned about… Can you tell us how you feel?’. Many seniors do not what to burden their kids with their problems, but I can tell you from experience, many of our seniors need support and desire someone to help them with this journey. Many of our seniors are facing new problems and the answers are not always simple.
Many seniors also do not know where to start when looking at a physical move and often times the thought of moving is too overwhelming to consider. Adult children can relieve some of stress by offering assistance. Maybe it’s just gathering information, looking into moving resources such as movers and auctioneers. It can make the process a little easier. Many of our adult children play a huge role in researching options as well as coordinating a move.”
“I would like to point out just how special families are, especially at this time of year,” adds Robbie Nathan with Care Consultants for the Aging. “So many people simply don’t know where to start when life changes and suddenly there is a recognition that one really can’t take care of someone all by themselves. Lincoln has many wonderful choices, such as Care Consultants for the Aging. Families and individuals can avoid making decisions in crisis mode. Research, using a tool such as the ElderCare Handbook from Care Consultants; think about what cares are needed not just now but six months down the road. Not every Home Health Care business can meet all of the needs of a person, but there is no time like the present to discover what each of them can provide. Families need to look at not only how much cost is involved, but also whether they are getting a certified/licensed professional who is screened and insured as well as trained. CARE should be the number one concern…are businesses or caregivers being hired? There is a difference! And most importantly during the holidays, caregivers need to take care of themselves! This is the time when they need to be a spouse or a child, not a caregiver. Let someone give you a helping hand!”
Bridge to Better Living is a company that was started by Mary Ann Stallings to help people of all ages find the right independent, assisted, or skilled care community for their loved ones. Personal experience of searching for the best retirement community for relatives and friends and the confusions and time that it took was the impetus to start this business. Bridge to Better Living is designed to remove the guesswork and lessen the time and frustration from the process of finding a community—for you, a loved one, or a friend. It is critical you have one-on-one support to help guide and transition you through this difficult process. “We do the investigating, the so-called leg work, and provide you with your options,” states Mary Ann Stallings. “Our goal is to connect you to the retirement community that will best meet your needs socially, medically, physically, and financially. We also help bridge the gap that often occurs between family members making these difficult choices. Having everyone in agreement ensures a smooth transition. All of these services are provided at no cost to the client or clients.”
In some cases, it may appropriate and beneficial to look into hospice care for your loved one. “If your loved one have experienced one or more of these symptoms: A progressive decline in status despite curative treatments, frequent hospitalizations, weight loss, repeat or multiple infections, increased or uncontrolled pain, progressive or profound weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath with/without oxygen dependency, or alterations in mental status, it may be time to look into hospice,” says Sarah Baltensperger with Pathways to Compassion Hospice. “By identifying some of these symptoms, it is never too early to speak to their doctor about a hospice evaluation. Hospice offers tremendous benefits and support not only for the patients, but for the families as well. Caregivers and patients can begin the grief process in the privacy of their own homes with the counsel and support of the hospice professionals.”
“When individuals hear the word ‘hospice’, they often think of ‘death’,” adds Baltensperger. “Hospice isn’t really about dying, but about life. It is not intended to add days to life, but life to days. Another misconception is that hospice is for patients who are dying very soon. However, many families we have worked with have told us that they wish they would have known about hospice sooner. We want patients and families to enjoy the benefits of hospice, allowing the patient to make choices about what is most important in his or her life and have a wonderful quality of life at the end.”
Helping an aging parent is sometimes about encouraging them to get help on health issues that may be affecting their lives in a negative manner. Hearing loss is one of these issues.
“When hearing loss is present, we often see parents withdraw from conversation, nod and agree at inappropriate times, or seem to be saddened and depressed. Miscommunication often begins over the telephone or you might notice television volume is louder than it used to be,” says Dr. Sandra Miller with Complete Hearing Solutions. “Remember the ultimate goal is to ensure our loved ones know we want the best quality of life for them. If they understand how important it is to you that they hear conversation with their children and grandchildren, it may help with their hesitancy. It is important to be supportive and take part in the rehabilitation process. The degree of success a patient has is often noticed and expressed by those who communicate with them most often. All of our patients want to be connected with those they love and hearing well is a vital part of that relationship.”
“A very small number of our aging parents have hearing loss that is solely due to wax or something that can be remedied with medication or surgery. Most hearing loss is permanent as we age and requires a hearing device to bring back the audibility of sound. Hearing devices are not a magical cure that will restore hearing to normal. You have to remember we hear and understand with our brain, not our ears. We can provide good quality sound through amplification and help the brain sort through the sounds that are missing.”
“Preplanning is also a practical gesture because it allows you to make unhurried, informed decisions,” says Mike Williams from Wyuka. “Preplanning compels you to organize important documents survivors will need later. With advance planning, you can choose a reasonable budget, and even set aside the funds over a period of time to ease the financial burden on your family.”
“There are several important things to consider when preplanning,” he continues. “You will want to consider any religious practices that are expected by your faith. You should consider your family members and their desire to participate in the service by not over planning ahead of time. Instead, make general suggestions that can be adapted or adjusted to make the funeral more meaningful to the participants. Refrain from impractical requests. Your funeral director can discuss the many pre-planned and preneed plans available and help you select or design one suited to your loved one’s personal needs.
Pre-planning the service guarantees that the family can get together with their loved one and help them prepare a service that will properly reflect their life and give those left behind the chance to celebrate their life in a way that provides comfort and joy.
Long-Term Care Insurance
When you start looking into options for your loved one, you’ll probably find that the cost is more than you expected. Not only does this want to make you look into financial options for your loved one, but it also might make you think about your own future needs as well.
“Most people think Medicare or their health insurance will pay for long-term care they may need in the future, but it will not,” explains Bryan Oswald with Oswald Insurance. “Health insurance is mainly for doctor and hospital bills. If you become disabled, develop a chronic illness or cannot care for yourself for an extended period of time, you will need long-term care. Unfortunately, this is not cheap since nursing home care averages $69,000 to $78,000 per year! Even home health care can cost $43,000 to $70,000 per year.”
“Because of the high cost of long-term care, should you need it, it can quickly drain your life savings,” continues Bryan. “With that said, if you can afford long-term care insurance and qualify for it, you should probably consider it. While financial considerations cannot be understated, long-term care insurance isn’t only about the money but more importantly, peace of mind. With long-term insurance it ensures you access to the best care and also not being dependent on others or a burden to your children. The odds of needing long-term care are greater than you might imagine. There is about a 70% chance that you will need some type of long-term care after age 65. Long term-care services are not just for the elderly either. Statistics show that 40% of patients receiving care are under age 65.”
“Just like most insurance, the younger you are when you buy long-term care insurance, the lower the premiums will be. Generally premiums will not increase with age unless the insurance company raises them for the entire group. Since roughly 40 percent of those receiving care are under age 65, you should give some serious thought to buying coverage when you are still young and healthy. Doing this will lock in a lower rate while giving you the coverage you may need sooner than you think. The worst thing you can do is to do nothing at all. If you can’t buy as much coverage as you would like, consider starting with something and enhancing it down the road when your financial situation improves.”
A Way to Remember Our Loved Ones
Many of us regret not having enough memories of our loved ones after they are gone. That’s why it’s important to do things now that will enable us to remember our loved ones. One wonderful idea is to have your loved on record his or her story so you and your relatives can listen to it for years to come and so future generations can learn about your loved one as well.
“A Voices in Time session is designed to capture an organic dialogue, the give and take, the raw emotion, the spontaneity that makes it real, compelling and powerfully human,” says Judy Shutts with Voices in Time. “On the day of your session, we will come to your loved one and set up recording equipment in a comfortable area. During the session, a facilitator will be present to operate the equipment, monitor the recording quality and assist with pauses as needed. We will accompany them through the session and put them at ease so they may savor this meaningful experience.”
It is more important than ever this time of year to spend time with your aging loved ones, not only to make holiday memories that you can remember for years to come, but also to make sure they are safe and healthy and to see what type of assistance they may need. Remember, it can be overwhelming for seniors to make living decisions on their own and many times, they deny the fact that they need help until it is too late. It is our responsibility to guide them to the decisions that are best for the health, safety and happiness.