Discuss care for elders well before it's needed

Senior Life

July 04, 1999|By MARY B. MOORHEAD | MARY B. MOORHEAD,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

This is a new column on senior issues by Mary Moorhead, a licensed family therapist and elder-care specialist. It will appear monthly in Decades.

"I am embarrassed to discuss elder care with my parents, and they never bring it up," people often tell me. "Is it really necessary to plan?"

Yes, it is crucial that you prepare for elder care. When adult children have met with each other and their elders, reviewed finances, assessed home care or nursing home options, and planned with an attorney, they are ready for the 3 a.m. call announcing Mom's severe stroke. And elders can control their lives, to the end, if they make their wishes known before the stroke occurs.

Unfortunately, it is common for both generations to postpone the inevitably tough discussions that accompany elder-care planning. Yet decisions made without prior planning, in the heat of a crisis, result in unsuitable care choices, family feuds and money unwisely spent.

Don't procrastinate. Start with these suggestions, and make elder care planning a resolution that you keep:

* Initiate a family meeting. The goal is to gather information. Keep the mood friendly and matter-of-fact. If tension is high, use a family counselor or geriatric care manager to facilitate.

* Elders, tell your children your wishes. Do you want to be cared for at home? Would you prefer the activities of a retirement community or perhaps the security of a continuing care arrangement?

* Do you want to stay in your home town? Is there supportive family nearby? If not, can you develop a network of clergy, friends and elder-care professionals?

* Elders (providing you trust your children), organize your finances and advise your children accordingly. Locate all savings and bank accounts, outstanding loans, home ownership papers, insurance plans and past income tax statements.

* Look carefully at your assets and current income, because finances dictate many elder-care choices. Remember, 24-hour care costs $75 to $400 day.

* Plan for the long range. Do not spend all of an elder's savings on, say, an apartment with no support services, or building an in-law unit on your house. You will not have enough money to pay for around-the-clock care at home or a decent nursing home, if needed.

* Tour and choose care facilities before you need them.

* Locate community resources: Meals on Wheels, transportation, senior centers, home health and care-giving agencies.

* Make a list of all illnesses, medications and doctors. Throw out unused medications.

* Consult an elder-law attorney or legal assistance for seniors to prepare such documents as durable powers of attorney for both health care and finances; wills, living trusts or Medicaid planning.

* Share care responsibilities like checkbook balancing, health-care decisions or home management among all adult children. Do not give all tasks to one person.

* Create an organizing system, like a notebook and files, for the above information.

Resources for planning

New Lifestyles, a nationwide directory of all care facilities: 800-869-9549.

Eldercare locater-nationwide community resources: 800-677-1116.

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: 602-881-4005.

National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers: 602-881-8008.

Pub Date: 07/04/99

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