With the graying of America, the Baby Boom generation is facing an unprecedented challenge: how to make decisions about our aging parents, elders, and other loved ones. The general population is living longer than ever, though dying of the same things that have been the major causes of death in the U.S. for many decades: heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Many of our elderly parents are living longer with disabilities, and the gradual erosion of independence at home.
For many of us, the concern about the outcomes of these diseases is eclipsed by the fact that we must figure out how to take care of our elderly aging parents and loved ones as they grow more infirm, and less able to safely manage on their own, without much guidance from anyone. If you are the “responsible one” in the family, you may find yourself struggling with many questions. Should I put Mom or Dad in a nursing home? An assisted living facility? Should I sell the house? Do I need a guardianship? How about getting a power of attorney? What if there isn’t enough money? Should I try to take care of him/her at my home? What if she wants to stay at home, but she can’t remember to pay the bills? Where should I start?
There are many resources to guide us, but how do I find the right one for me? In surveying the places to go for information in my own county of Marin, California, I was somewhat surprised to find that there is no central place where one can go to get the usual questions answered, especially if the senior in question is not poor and a Medicaid recipient. For the lowest income seniors, there are community centers and resources doing the job of information and referral. For others, one must somehow find lawyers, real estate brokers, care givers, care managers, financial advisors and others by either blind luck or a lot of looking, asking, research and calling.
We suggest using professional community services as a place to start, rather than first wading through the overwhelming number of internet sites claiming to give just the right advice. Most communities have a senior services center of some kind, together with Legal Aid offices. These are staffed by knowledgeable people with credibility. However, the amount of knowledge will be limited by the focus of the agency. Is the focus on recreational activities? Some elder care centers provide socialization through meals and field trips. They’ll know about that, but maybe not more than that. Others are serving those who need general information, such a how to apply for government benefit programs, such as Medicaid. Decide what you need most, and focus your attention first on those who offer it.
Next, in an effort to address all the needs of your elderly aging parents, you may need to seek individual consultation from the likely professional person who can assist in your area. That might include a visit to your parent’s estate planning attorney, or locating one if your parent does not have one, to be sure the right paperwork is done and updated. If your parent is low income, many communities have free or low cost services available to help. Check your telephone directory for “elder legal services”, legal aid, or senior legal aid. A durable power of attorney for finances, for example, is something everyone needs to have, in case your parent has a stroke, a fall, or other problem which puts you, the adult child in charge of managing money for him or her.
When you do research on the internet, be sure to find a service which comes from a believable source. Just because someone took good care of his or her own parent does not mean that that person can answer all the questions you have to ask. Look for resource persons in the medical, nursing, legal and social work fields to provide the best information, backed by education and professional experience. If an internet site is authored by a person with a license in your state or another state in one of those fields, it is some assurance (though not a guarantee) that the person is a reliable source of advice or guidance. AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and government websites, such as Medicare.gov also provide a broad variety of basic information.
Be a good consumer. You may feel overwhelmed or even desperate. There are many caring individuals and organizations available to you. Stay focused, and you will find what you need. Millions of others like you are doing the same thing every day. Feel free to contact our team at agingparents.com. A nurse-lawyer and psychologist are ready to assist. Either direct, one-on-one information or one of our products can help you do the right thing in caring for your aging parent.
@2008, Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N., Attorney at Law
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