Nursing Home Care - The Steps to Elder Care

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When her father, suffering the last stages of congestive heart failure, became too difficult to handle at home last year, Veronica Daniels did the unthinkable: She put him in a nursing home. "He was too heavy to lift, and my brothers and sisters and I just couldn't afford constant home care," she says. Although the family had been here before seven years earlier with their mother, the need for a nursing home never came up back then. And Daniels and her siblings had no idea where to turn for elder care information.

Though their father wanted to stay home, that didn't seem like a viable option. He spent three months in the nursing home before he died; Daniels still feels guilty about having put him there in the first place. "Mom died at home, where she wanted to be. I wish we'd done the same for him," she says, wringing her hands.

Daniels' story is not uncommon. Many African-American seniors are living longer than ever before. And though many of them are living healthier than seniors a generation ago, eventually half will need some assistance with daily activities.

Problems arise because many Black adult children in this country haven't communicated with their parents about elder care. "Many times these discussions can create enormous fear," says Robert Kramer, executive director for the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Industries. "The parent is likely to worry their quality of life will be compromised by a move from home. And adult children put off the discussion for fear of upsetting the parent." As a result, most elder care decisions are postponed until there's a crisis.

"The sooner these issues are discussed the better," Kramer says. He advises adult children make like the old Nike slogan and "just do it."

The following guidelines will help get families started:

  • Make sure you know the senior's birth-date and Social Security number. This information is vital to access many services.
  • Collect information about your loved one's medical providers.
  • Call a family meeting. Get as many people as possible involved in the decision-making process. Allow each family member a chance to express his or her feelings. Include your loved one's spiritual adviser.
  • Find out if all your loved one's legal documents (will, durable power of attorney, living will) are in place. Has anyone been appointed to take care of business and make health care decisions in case of temporary or permanent disability? What are the senior's wishes for end-of-life care?
  • Check into your elder family member's health insurance. What type of coverage does he or she have? Is the family member eligible for Medicare? Does he or she have a long-term care policy?
  • Explore other available financial resources. Does your family member own real estate? How much is in savings accounts, stocks and bonds, IRAs? What is the monthly income from Social Security, private pension plans, annuities, investments, CDs or other bank accounts?
  • Find out about senior centers and adult day services in the area. What meal delivery and transportation support options are available?
  • Gather information on assisted living facilities and other long-term care options.
  • Hire a case manager. This is a professional trained to assess the situation and make recommendations about needed services. The case manager can also coordinate community resources and hire paid caregivers.
  • If the senior is still living at home, make sure you and others in the inner circle have keys to the residence in case of emergency.
  • Talk to the senior. Help them maintain as much control over their lives as possible. The more you consult with your elderly family member and consider his or her desires, the better the transition will be.
  • Take care of yourself, too.

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