Who are you, and why are you reading this blog?
Maybe you’re a senior who knows you need long-term care. Maybe you’re a family caregiver who needs help supporting an elderly loved one. Perhaps you’re the child of an elderly parent who has shown a need for companionship that you know you cannot provide. You may be a senior coming to terms with your own limitations that are surfacing with age, and wondering about your options. Maybe you’re reading to find answers to questions that will help you navigate important care decisions.
Regardless of your place or role in care decisions, here are seven important questions to answer as you start assessing your situation, planning payment and shopping for providers of long-term care. Starting here, families and seniors who are new to the long-term care process can find some direction amidst the whirlwind of confusion that can surround this time. Aging well under quality care that makes a positive impact is what we want for any senior in need, especially those we love. You’ll find that the task of securing this care can be easier than it initially seems once you have the right knowledge and resources.
1. What challenges do seniors face?
General aging brings a normal set of challenges for senior loved ones. Especially if you are the adult child of a senior who lives alone, you may want them to have home care out of precautionary concern. Protecting your senior loved one from risks like isolation and senior falls would be good reasons to find them home care if general aging concerns are the only issues you’re dealing with.
On the other hand, a temporary illness or injury may be a bigger reason for needing long-term care. Once a senior has suffered from a fall, cardiac disease or other common illnesses and injuries that happen to seniors, they may have to undergo intensive care in a hospital. Even when it looks like they will make a full recovery, you may not know what will happen after a hospital discharge. Seniors recovering from temporary illness or injury will generally get well sooner with home care that provides support with things they may not be able to physically do.
In the unfortunate event that a senior is experiencing progressive disease, it is very clear when they start to need long-term care. Progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, emphysema or cancer can worsen and spread causing serious debility until death. While seniors with progressive diseases are nearing the end, they are in most need for quality care. Usually, a family member providing informal care labors to the extreme out of loyalty and love for their elderly. This may be a spouse or an adult child. However, informal caregivers supporting seniors with progressive disease are in even more need for help with care because respite can actually save their mental, physical and emotional health.
2. Who is the appropriate person to make decisions about care?
This may be a difficult question to answer, especially in some family situations, but it is very important to think about because confused decision-making about senior loved ones’ care can rip families apart and subject vulnerable seniors to harm. Unless they are suffering mental decline, the senior receiving care should have the first word on making decisions about care, like how to pay for it, who provides it and whether they need it in the first place.
A senior can specify their preferences for aging needs in a living trust, which might decline against the further treatment of terminal illnesses or designate a decision-maker to act on their behalf, for example. But with or without such documentation, families may still find themselves in conflict over who decides things about long-term care. Seniors who cannot accept dependence on care from others for reasons of pride or mental impairment may refuse care that they truly need against the advice of doctors or concerned family. They can stubbornly refuse to hand over decision-making authority, even to someone with good intentions.
In addition, family members may become confused over who has the “right” to manage the care of an incapacitated senior loved one. This conflict can occur among adult children, between spouses and in-laws and especially if money is involved, among stakeholders or beneficiaries. Remember that conflict and confusion is anything but what a senior needing long-term care wants, and that responsible, respectful communication should sort it out.
3. How much care does the senior require?
It is good to answer this question before going to care providers or insurers. It also may be a question that you cannot answer alone. Determining how much care a senior needs is subjective to many factors. For one, a doctor’s orders that may come after a regular checkup, treatment in the hospital or continued treatment of a progressive disease should strongly dictate your measure of care the senior in question needs. The doctor may specify things that his or her patient should not do without assistance, like activities of daily living. Trying to do these things without help is against a professional’s best advice and can even cause harm. Use help, especially if a doctor says you need it.
Once you are advised by a doctor, you may have a good idea of how much care you or your senior loved one requires. In other situations, you may be the family caregiver who has seen a progression of limitations that inhibit your senior loved one from performing tasks that they used to be able to do on their own. You may have had to carry the brunt of their daily living helping with hygiene, cleaning, eating, dressing or toileting. You, as an informal caregiver, would have a very intimate knowledge of how much care your senior loved one needs. These time measures can put a good label on your answer for this important question:
Does your senior loved one require care…
- Several times/week?
- Every day, from 9AM-5PM?