Caring For Aging ParentsPosted on May 20, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Caregiver Education, Education
Caring for aging parents: Honest talk is step one
By: Erica Jackson
For so many, there often comes a day when the tables are turned and children find themselves in a position where they must now care for their own parents. Whether it is simple as taking them to the doctor or food shopping or as difficult as choosing between a nursing home, assisted living facility or in-home care, stress can kick in.
But Juliet Forella, director of Community Care at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, says that if children are proactive, caring for an elderly or sick parent can be less straining.
The first thing Forella recommends is for all family members to sit down and have a conversation before care is even needed. It is a difficult conversation to have, said Forella, but it is vital.
“It is just so important,” said Forella, who on a daily basis, speaks with family members who find themselves in a situation where they are scrambling to make important decisions about a loved one’s care.
There are several questions that need to be answered during the discussion, said Forella.
What are the expectations that a loved one has if they become sick or need help? Will they be willing to leave their home to be cared for or would they prefer to have in-home care? Are there family members close enough to help provide care? Are they willing to help?
With the answer to those questions, Forella said family members are in a better position to make a clear decision when the time comes.
“These are tough discussions to have, but they are part of really good planning — knowing what parent’s wishes are will make things easier later on,” she said.
Also part of the discussion should be finances, said Forella, because while there are numerous free programs available on the North Fork, health care comes at a price and many people don’t understand that Medicaid is not going to pay for everything.
What needs to be asked, said Forella, is whether the parent has enough money to pay for in-home care or outside care, if needed. Also part of the financial discussion, she said, should be who will have power of attorney over bank accounts should someone need to take over.
“I have heard horror stories,” said Forella, who said there is often news reports about theft of money by hired caregivers, but it happens among family members as well.
“When you put someone’s name on your bank account there has to be a lot of trust there,” she said.
Just as important, if not more, said Forella is having a health care proxy in place.
“You want to make sure everyone is on the same page. At some point medical decisions may have to be made and you want to make sure it is down on paper,” she said.
With decisions made, Forella said family members should be proactive about researching all the options, which she said are plentiful on the North Fork no matter what the situation is, including for those where family members do not live on the North Fork or for those that are sick or need assistance and do not have any family.
Forella said families can start by calling her office and she can direct them to the variety of options, including free services provided by the towns of Riverhead and Southold, non-profit groups like RSVP, programs like meals on wheels, and seniors centers, such as the Southold Town Human Resource and Senior Center in Mattituck and nursing facilities, like San Simeon By the Sound in Greenport.
Forella said the programs, which range from simple to elaborate, are a lifeline for so many families. RSVP, for example provides a phone call check in service; meals on wheels, not only provides food, but in the process of delivering food, an elderly or sick family member is check in on.
The first services families should take advantage of, said Forella, are proactive wellness programs, which can, in many cases, prevent future care. Along with that, she said is ensuring that family members pay good attention to their health by going to the doctor regularly and managing chronic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
“I find that our seniors are very good about this. I am more scared for future generations,” she said.
With most parents needing care after a major fall, Forella said that family members should work to find ways to make their parent’s home safer.
“We see a lot of people falling with broken hips and bones. Those are issues we have to deal with, but some of them are preventable,” she said.
Aside from removing any potential hazards from around the home, Forella said it is a good idea to have parents enrolled in an exercise program, including ones offered by the Town of Riverhead and a new RSVP/ELIH program in the fall that will offer a series of healthy living workshops on staying healthy as we age.
“There are some wonderful programs out there,” she said.
Finally, Forella said, if family members find themselves overwhelmed, they should get help through a caregivers support group, which Forella said there are many of on the North Fork.
“We encourage people to get support and learn from each other about how they manage day to day, support each other, and learn from each other’s experiences, especially when it comes to dealing with someone with significant memory problems,” she said.