It’s a fact that as our parents age, they will need our help. Nearly 44 million Americans – one in five adults — are family caregivers for a relative or friend over age 50.
1. It’s also a fact that we are more squeezed for time than ever before. We have full-time jobs, children to raise, lives of our own. How can we provide the care our seniors need with all these other responsibilities? Fortunately, the marketplace is recognizing this situation and is responding with a variety of options.
“Sometimes all you need is someone to handle the errands and the little things,” says Belinda Torres Hernandez of Senior Blessings. Her company offers a concierge service for seniors. “We set up a personal care plan and handle daily living activities for your senior,” she says. “This isn’t medical care — it’s personal assistance. We can transport and escort a senior to doctor appointments, shopping and restaurants. We can serve as a caring companion, visiting to do light housekeeping and provide socialization. This kind of service can ease the burden adult children often experience when caring for aging parents.”
Skilled care with love
“When I was a nurse, I saw the kind of care being provided by senior care agencies and nonmedical senior care services, and I wanted to provide something else,” says Daniel Castillo, director of Exceptional Provider Service. “There was a need for skilled in-home nursing with a loving touch, and that’s what I provide. Families need someone not only to provide medical care for a parent but also to serve as an information resource. All kinds of assistance are available in San Antonio if you know where to look.”
Like Hernandez, Castillo meets with the family to conduct an assessment for a care plan. “Many seniors don’t want to accept nursing help,” he says. “The doctor or a medical professional usually decides if skilled nursing is required. Sometimes all a patient needs is assistance with daily living activities, and we do that, too. All of my patients seem to need some companion time, someone to talk to.”
Hospice is another alternative for in-home care. Hospice caregivers coordinate patient support services, including pain and symptom management, social services and emotional and spiritual support for terminally ill patients and their families. Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans.
Hospice usually involves a team that develops a care plan for pain management and symptom control. Team members often include:
• The patient’s personal physician
• The hospice physician or medical director
• Home health aides
• Clergy or other professional counselors
• Speech, physical or occupational therapists as needed
The hospice team provides a number of services for the patient and the family. Besides pain management, the team provides needed drugs, medical supplies and equipment. They train the family on how to care for the patient and assist with the emotional aspects of dying. When symptoms become too difficult to manage at home, many hospice services make short-term inpatient care available.
With the rise in Alzheimer’s and dementia among the senior population, memory care centers now provide these patients with a secure assisted living or nursing care facility. Memory care centers offer round-the-clock supervised care with meals, activities and health management. Ginny Funk is director of programs and advocacy at the Alzheimer’s Association San Antonio & South Texas Chapter (AA). She’s quite familiar with the challenges of caring for a senior with this disease. “As a nonprofit organization, we do a lot of education about Alzheimer’s and related dementias,” she says. “We help families throughout the journey of these diseases.” While the association doesn’t do direct care and isn’t a memory care facility, it does serve as a resource center for medical or nonmedical adult day care and long-term care for dementia. “We’re here to help you find information and decide what you need for your dementia patient,” she explains. “Our role is not to push for moving a person out of the home but to provide advice for dealing with the situation. We can show you how to ask for help from family members, friends, church or professional care service. Dementia is an emotional issue, and families find it difficult to ask for help with it.”
Funk says one of the most important services AA provides is respite care for the caregiver. “I can tell you that often the caregiver’s health surrenders before the patient’s health gives out,” she says. “Caregivers for dementia patients must have a break from the caregiving role. AA can arrange respite care where a home health care staff member goes to the patient’s house for a certain time each day to give you a break. There are also assisted living communities we’ve identified that can offer a week-long respite stay for a patient. We have a 24-hour helpline staffed every day of the year to provide support for dementia caregivers. If you reach the end of your rope, call them for help.”
The number is (800) 272-3900. Funk also encourages caregivers to access the national Alzheimer’s website at www.alz.org. You can call the local AA office at (210) 822-6449. Relocating a dementia patient to a memory care facility is only one option. With the right support, your senior can remain at home in the early stages of the disease.
Across the board, these professionals say the best choice for aging in place is to plan ahead. Communicate regularly with your senior’s doctor so you know where the person is on the health continuum. Shop for options before you need them so you’re prepared for any eventuality. Evaluating your options is the first step to caregiving success.
1 Caregiving in the U.S. The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP 2009.