Our Views: As relatives age, it's best to discuss care options now

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Start the conversation, and the sooner the better.

That's the key takeaway from a two-day series, “Late Life Choices,” by reporter Gina Duwe in Sunday's and Monday's Gazettes.

As our population ages, more families will face decisions about living arrangements and care for elderly parents and grandparents. These talks can be difficult and stressful if a medical crisis requires a quick decision.

Many baby boomers are stuck in the middle as they follow their kids' activities while caring for aging loved ones. Fortunately, our medical system strives to keep older people in their homes as long as possible, so more options exist for home-care services.

Think not just yard work or housekeeping but running errands, transportation to doctor's appointments, preparing meals and administering medicine. Some services provide 24-hour help with bathing, dressing and end-of-life care.

Likewise, if an older person must leave the home, many senior-living complexes offer far more options and activities than in the past. While nursing homes are reserved only for those needing high levels of medical care, many complexes start with senior apartments and progress into assisted living before reaching that latter stage. These options let a person move from one level of care to the next within the same facility. Meanwhile, programs create a sense of community and can include everything from daytrips to art classes and gardening.

Where do you start? Experts and families who have been through the process suggest holiday gatherings are good times to discuss plans. Often, a loved one has lived in one home throughout life and resists any move or even the discussion. It's easier to have such a chat, however, before Mom or Dad is lying in intensive care and everyone has a differing opinion.

Talk to others who have made the move, and visit potential sites. Some places offer chances to spend a night or two or even month-to-month stays. Sometimes, when a person gets acclimated to the new surroundings and finds people to socialize with who often remain vibrant, he or she grows comfortable with the idea of a permanent move and will realize it's safer and can feel like home.

One of the biggest concerns often is what to do with all of Grandma's stuff. It's hard to part with cherished possessions. Again, it's often easier to plan and start giving away or selling things years before a crisis. Compiling a scrapbook so the person can share memories from a life well lived might ease this process.

Which facility might be the best fit for your relative? Each county has an Aging and Disability Resource Center. Staffers offer information on a range of programs and services and can help people understand long-term care options, apply for programs and benefits, and serve as access points for publicly funded long-term care.

The holidays are approaching. Today might be a good time to contact the aging resource center in your county and build a base of knowledge for starting a family conversation.

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