Aging population faces long-term care choices
EVANSVILLE—Jane Whitmore said encouragement from her son and daughter likely pushed her to move into an assisted living complex.
After about a year of consideration, the 101-year-old woman who still cooks her own suppers “reluctantly gave in.”
As the baby boomers enter retirement and their parents age, more and more families are facing similar conversations to decide about care for their loved ones or for themselves.
Whitmore's move into an efficiency apartment at Kelly House in Evansville two years ago came as her children worried about her being home alone at night, she said.
“Even though I had Life Alert,” she quickly pointed out.
Before she moved, Whitmore had someone visit her apartment twice a week to do heavier chores.
She enjoys her new home, but shedding possessions was a “horrid” process, she said while sitting in a rocking chair, resting her feet on a leopard-print footstool.
Some families are forced to make quick decisions about living arrangements after an emergency, such as a fall that results in broken bones. Other families make plans years in advance.
The topic of moving out of a long-time home or receiving extra care often is difficult to broach, but those who have been through the experience say it's best to start the conversation early.
Most families won't have it as easy as Jim and Ann Hyzer, who moved Jim's father, Bill, to Cedar Crest, a complex in Janesville with a range of living options. Jim's grandfather had lived there in the 1970s, which probably helped convince Bill to live there, too.
“He came to us and said he was going to do it,” Jim said.
Jim's mother had died a few years earlier, and his father still was living in the house where he was born in 1925.
“We thought we were never going to get him out of there,” he said.
But his father had figured he eventually would need help with daily living. At Cedar Crest, he can move to higher levels of care within the complex on his own timeline, rather than moving after something happened at home, Jim said.
“The decision really was his,” Jim said, “but it probably would have been ours if he hadn't been (willing).”
Raising the topic with Ann's parents, Ted and Faye Bidwell, wasn't as easy.
She and her sister knew their parents needed help. Housework was too much for their father, leaving their mother overwhelmed.
“He loves that home. He built that home. He never would talk about moving,” Ann said of her father.
Suggestions of a move became “kind of” verboten.
Ann toured a facility with her sister and mother and looked into in-home care. After settling on Cedar Crest because of the tiers of care, they talked her father into going on a tour.
“He was impressed. It blew us away,” Ann said. “It was the fastest turnaround we'd seen.”
Her father quickly called his brother to say he and Faye were moving. Within three months, they were settling into their independent apartment.
One of the keys, Jim said, is getting loved ones to see a facility and “see there are people their age that are actually vibrant.”
Ann's mother was ready for the move and loves the workout room. Her father can walk down the hall and see other people, so it's not as confining as being at home.
When Ann told one of her parents' friends they had moved to Cedar Crest, the woman's smile vanished as if hearing a tragedy, Ann recalled. She told the friend to take a look at how happy her parents are, she said.
Older people can have a fear of the future. They worry: “What's going to happen to me when I can't take care of myself?” They recall horror stories they heard as they grew up, Jim said.
But when they can see the options available if they plan ahead, the worries can be eased.
That's the case for John and Carole Francis of Janesville, who made their own post-retirement plans after helping Carole's parents move to Cedar Crest, where her grandmother was one of the first residents in the 1960s.
When it was time for her parents, Zona, 86, and the late Kenneth Mennicke, to move, the decision was easier because they had been impressed by the care Carole's grandmother had received. When her father needed more care, he moved to the nursing home within the complex, allowing her mother to easily visit him.
“It's been such a relief for John and me,” Carole said.
Even though they live in town, both were working. The complex provides transportation and household maintenance.
The good impression pushed John and Carole to put their names on a list for a move when they're eventually ready to downsize. They looked at retirement homes in Houston, where their daughter lives.
A major consideration for them and for her parents was the ability to move from one level of care to the next within the same facility, she said.
The retired couple recommend people start asking questions and checking out potential facilities.
“Don't wait, start soon,” Carole said. “Don't wait until you're incapacitated.”
101 and counting
Whitmore, who jokes she milked her 101st birthday for “two whole weeks” this summer, said she never thought she'd be living in an assisted living facility.
“I didn't think I'd live this long. I never dreamed…” she said with a laugh.
All the women in her family have seen their mid-90s, including a great-great-grandmother in Ireland who lived to be 103 years and 6 months.
“And that's before they had all this health care stuff,” she said.
She attributes her longevity to good genes and lots of grapefruit.
Though she still lives fairly independently, her move into Kelly House makes her feel safer, she said. She chose the facility because she knows the owner, Diane Skinner, and because it's a smaller, “home like” complex.
Staff members clean her apartment, do laundry and change her sheets during weekly visits. She still does ironing and makes her bed.
“I won't sleep on a bed without ironed sheets,” she insists.
A friend takes her grocery shopping and to medical appointments for blood transfusions—“that's what keeps me going.” She misses out on social opportunities offered at the facility because of a hearing problem that started 30 years ago. Instead, she invites people into her apartment, where an audio system allows her to carry on a conversation.
She prefers to cook her own dinners, which on a recent day included a marinated steak, hash browns and a salad. She didn't have to make a dessert because she had brownies and a little custard left over.
“I like to dine, not eat,” she said.
She's still collecting recipes and lamenting her small kitchen.
“I wanted to make bread so badly. I made bread all my life, every week, five or six loaves,” she said. “Can't do it here, there isn't any place to work.”
Baking bread was therapy, but she still makes icebox pies and cherry dumplings.
The hardest part about moving into her apartment was deciding what to get rid of, she said.
“There's several of the things I wish desperately I still had,” she said of her kitchen equipment.
Still, she said she couldn't praise enough the senior living apartment complexes.
“My advice would be for them to look at something small,” she said.
And while she can't partake in the after-dinner socializing among her neighbors, it's nice to have other people around.
“It does help a lot. You have someone to interact with.”
HOW TO START YOUR LONG-TERM CARE SEARCH
Making the first phone call to explore senior living options can seem daunting.
The Aging and Disability Resource Center in each county is a good place to begin. The centers provide information on all aspects of life related to aging or living with a disability.
Rock County's center opened in March in an office next to the Rock County Job Center on Janesville's south side.
“We are the organization in the county that people can turn to who are either elderly, physically disabled or developmentally disabled,” said Jennifer Thompson, division manager.
People in those three target groups—or their family members/caregivers—can seek help from the center “for really anything and everything under the sun to help you get by in your life so that you're not necessarily supported” by a county or state program, she said.
“People with money come here, people without money come here,” she said. “We're a personable resource guide.”
The center provides information on a broad range of programs and services, helps people understand the various long-term care options available to them, helps people apply for programs and benefits and serves as the access point for publicly-funded long-term care.
Rock County's office has eight information and assistance specialists, who often start the conversation with an individual on the phone or set up a time to meet. The specialists provide options and the pros/cons of whatever programs the individual might be eligible for.
“They call them the 'red-tape cutters,'” she said.
Services can be provided at the Aging and Disability Resource Centers, over the phone or through a home visit.
Rock County ADRC, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville.
Call 608-741-3600 or email ADRC@co.rock.wi.us. The new Aging and Disability Resource Center of Rock County is housed in the Rock County Job Center, but it has its own entrance directly off the parking lot.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, when phone calls and walk-ins are accepted. For more information, visit www.co.rock.wi.us/adrc.
Walworth County ADRC, W4051 County NN, Elkhorn.
Call 1-800-365-1587 or 262-741-3400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays or by appointment. For more information, visit www.co.walworth.wi.us/Health and Human Services/ADRC.
For more information, visit dhs.wisconsin.gov/LTCare/adrc/index.htm.