The issue of whether elderly relatives should live their final days in nursing homes, or be cared for in their own home or that of a relative, is quickly emerging from the shadows of legislative committees into the limelight of public debate.
The aging Baby Boomer generation will bring unprecedented financial burdens to state and federal budgets – possibly breaking the bank – unless the current levels of institutionalization are significantly reduced.
Nursing home reimbursements are costing the country hundreds of billions annually. The costs are so high that most people who are institutionalized, especially if they live for several years after confinement, eventually are forced to go on welfare.
Home care is the best option for large percentages of the elderly to stay off the welfare roles – Title IX – by which their institution’s bills are paid by the government. Currently, in Connecticut, that amounts to about $12,000 each month, per person, and that is virtually the tip of the iceberg.
Not everyone is capable of caring for an elderly relative at home home and not everyone should. But to make it easier for those who are considering such a move, the LA Times today ran an article that hits some of the highlights of preparing yourself, your home and your relative for what is certain to be a life-altering decision for everyone involved.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Stuff happens, so be prepared. If they have a personal emergency response system, your parents can call for help, 24/7, with only a push of a button. Newer systems can detect when a person has fallen down, so even if they’re too injured to push the button, the system will automatically alert an operator.
Being prepared can prevent stuff from happening. In the long run it’s important to create an environment where such a system is needed as rarely as possible, says Linda Ercoli, director of geriatric psychology at UCLA. “If you fall and break your hip, you might be able to push a button and get help, but the fact remains that you’ll have broken your hip.”
Your parents’ home may be booby-trapped with all sorts of falls waiting to happen — including slippery showers or tubs (add grab bars), slide-prone throw rugs (get rid of them or tape them down) and fate-tempting steps and stairs (consider installing ramps or even chairlifts). Poor lighting is another open invitation for your parents to take a tumble or bang their heads or stub their toes. With brighter, better-positioned lights, they can see what they’re doing and where they’re going.
Be an alarmist. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be standard in every home. But your parents might also benefit from other, more specialized alarms, for example, an alarm that goes off if a pot has been left unattended on the stove for too long, or one that reminds them to take their medications (and alerts someone else if they don’t).
Life-simplifying devices. Clothing that fastens with Velcro — instead of buttons or zippers — can make a welcome difference for fingers stiff from arthritis. And for backs no longer terribly keen on bending, an extra-long shoehorn can be a real blessing.
Staying connected. Isolation can be a problem for seniors, especially as they become less mobile. If their hearing has also gone downhill, talking on the phone may be difficult. But a phone with amplified speakers can help, and if their eyes aren’t so sharp anymore, big buttons can help too. So can email with big fonts.
Senior centers and adult day care are other good options for those who can get to them — as are pets, at least in the right circumstances.
Food. Nutrition can be problematic for seniors. “Will they eat right — or even at all?” Perhaps your parents are eligible for Meals on Wheels services. Also, senior centers often offer no- or low-cost lunches. You might even hire someone to shop for groceries and prepare meals.
Professional services. Staying in their own home can be a lot easier for your parents if they don’t need to worry about keeping it clean or keeping the yard looking good. You can hire professionals to do those and almost any other chores your parents might no longer feel up to.
Taking care of business. Maybe it’s time for you to take charge of your parents’ finances — pay their bills, balance their checkbook. And it’s important for them to consult an elder law specialist. How they handle their assets can have big-bucks repercussions down the road, affecting their eligibility for programs like Medicaid, to name just one example.
Take care of yourself too. Worrying about and caring for your parents can wear you down. You can become isolated yourself and find yourself thinking, ‘I want my life back.’ Part of the challenge is the guilt you feel. That’s where caregiver support groups come in.
Resources. Countless agencies and organizations are dedicated to providing invaluable — but often free or low-cost — senior services. Information about many of these is available from your local Area Agency on Aging.
The Times did a good job of highlighting some of the ways to prepare for elder care. There are many more of course, and the emphasis will change drastically if elderly parents move into their children’s homes. But the basics are still essentially the same … prepare your home and yourself for a new set of priorities, and above all retain your sense of humor.
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