We all dread the day when we may be faced with making important life decisions on behalf of our aging parents. It’s never an easy road deciding how to best care for the people who used to care for us, and there are plenty of variables that should be considered to ensure that were providing the most comfortable, professional, and healthy environment so they can live out their final years in relative peace. With that in mind, here are some important tips on managing long-term care for elderly patients, including educated insight from a few experts.
Start with a Family Meeting. Schedule a family meeting that involves every adult who has a stake in this decision. If possible, this meeting also should include the parents as well. It’s their future the family is discussing, so it’s ideal to have all hands on deck well before a tragedy leaves the parent incapacitated. According to Jack Halpern, CEO and founder of My Elder Advocate, “When your parent is in their 60s or early 70s, it’s time to discuss their plans for their elder years,” he says. “Many parents can be reluctant to have this discussion. But I’ve found that bringing in a professional helps seniors open up more. It also helps address issues parents might be uncomfortable talking about with their kids.”
Access Your Parents’ Medical History. “Elderly parents’ health can take a turn for the worse at any moment, and it’s your responsibility to be as prepared as possible so they can receive the best care possible. Part of that preparation is to have Mom and Dad’s medical records handy,” says Halpern. “This should include diagnosis, medication and allergies, hospitalizations, names of doctors and other health care professionals, lab work, and surgeries. And be sure to keep this information on a USB drive, so that it’s easily accessible to doctors in an emergency situation.”
Get Legal Documents in Order. It’s important to discuss with your parents in advance if they’ll allow a responsible family member to have a healthcare power of attorney. That allows you to make important decisions as they arise. Halpern, who has seen his fair share of devastation to families who didn’t have documents in order, suggests you “start by consulting a trust and estates attorney to help you and your parents with the legal documents. You should also create a living will, which details such things as the circumstances in which you wouldn’t want a feeding tube to keep you alive.”
Consider Your Options. Many people decide to care for their elderly parent in their own home. But it’s important to recognize that this is often an emotional, physical, mental, and financial burden. For this reason it may be better to leave it to professionals. Relationship expert April Masini warns against acting impulsively. “While you may think that it’s a great idea,” she says, “your spouse may not be on board. As a result, your own marriage may be on the line if you create a relationship obstacle by taking in or taking on an elderly parent, when your spouse is against it.”
Tour Facilities. If you decide to go with a dedicated long-term care facility, consider these two important questions:
- Will my parent receive the best possible care here?
- Does this facility provide peace of mind that my parent is being well-cared for?
Steve Moran, publisher of the Senior Housing Forum, says it’s important to understand what good and bad looks like. He also suggests visiting facilities in the morning, late afternoons, and weekends when there is lots of activity. He says you should also talk to family members about what they like – and don’t like.
Be Realistic. Long-term care facilities aren’t cheap, and covering the cost could be a financial burden on you and/or your siblings. Do your parents have long-term care insurance? Do they have ready cash? If not, how will you pay for this? How will the cost affect your finances? There are under-the-radar fees that could drive up costs, so prepare for those as well. For example, Rick Lauber, author of the Caregivers Guide for Canadians notes that, “Private rooms and provided extras such as additional meals, laundry, and haircare can cost a family much more.”
Use Bargaining Chips. Moran notes that all is not lost if your parents have just a little in the way of assets. In fact, he says, “You can use that as a bargaining chip to get into a better-skilled nursing care facility when the money runs out and their care is covered by Medicaid,” he says.
Assign a Main Point of Contact. Healthcare consultant Melissa Kahn, principal at Kahn HealthCare Consulting, recommends “designating a family spokesperson to handle health care matters, as well as the financial and legal side of things. Involve more family members so you can avoid caregiver burnout, mistakes and miscommunication.”
Keep Parents Socially Active. It’s important that your parent(s) stay socially active and otherwise mentally stimulated to ensure the best quality of life. So consider the social aspect of long-term care when choosing the facility. Important questions you should consider include:
- Will your parent get along with the other residents?
- Are there events in which they can participate?
- Is the staff friendly and engaged?
- Is there technology available that allows them to keep in touch with you and other family members?
Recognize Elder Care Abuse. Elder care abuse is an unfortunate reality. That’s why attorney Jonathan Rosenfeld says, “Adult children need to educate themselves and their parents about their rights, common long-term care scams, and how to avoid them.” Rosenfeld also offers a few telltale signs of elder care abuse or neglect:
- Tension or frequent complaints by parents about the caregivers/staff
- Changes in personality, depression, and withdrawal from normal activities
- Weight loss, dehydration, and shortening of muscles due to inactivity
- Physical injuries ranging from bruises and burns to bed sores, falls, and broken bones, with unlikely or unclear explanations
“Knowing the signs and understanding your rights for you and your elderly parents is key to preventing elderly neglect and abuse,” Rosenfeld says.
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