The growing national trend to choose assisted and independent-living facilities for aging parents is linked to our longer life spans. “The average baby boomer,” says Joe Brady from the University of Denver Institute of Gerontology, “can expect to spend more time caring for their parents than their kids.”
Last year Carol Wassmer moved her father, Adolphe Harrison, to Colorado. Together, they searched for nearby housing. After the death of his wife, Adolphe, 85, turned to his family for consolation. Even so, he didn’t move right away.
“One time he was with us for six months and we asked him if he’d like to stay out here,” Carol says. “It’s hard to be alone. He’s healthy and able to get around, but he doesn’t drive anymore.”
That’s why adult children often find themselves in the role of the long distance caretaker, at least until a decision is made as to where the parent should relocate. Sometimes a parent’s health is declining or aging parents find the house too much work to keep up.
Carol and her father chose a facility that offered both independent and assisted-living. Adolphe was assessed by a counselor for his ability to live on his own.
“He does well with independent living because he can cook for himself,” Carol says. “They do assess them for that capability. They will check his apartment to make sure he is well and lunch or dinner is offered once a day. I feel better because he has a secure building and there is a cord in the bathroom and a cord in the living room that he can pull if he feels ill. And then, when he’s here with us, he really helps out. During family parties, he’s making coleslaw.”
DECIDING WHICH DOCUMENTS ARE NECESSARY
After their father’s move, Carol and her brother went back East with a durable power of attorney to sell the family home. They returned with the furniture they believed their dad would need.
A durable power of attorney gives you or another family member the broad authority to make financial decisions with your parents’ resources.
When you move a parent to a new location, it’s a good time to talk to them about how they want to be treated if they are unable to convey their wishes to you. Ask them if they have made a will and if they also want a living will.
A living will describes a person’s wishes for extreme medical care—for example, whether or not they want heroic measures to sustain life. Under Colorado law, two physicians must state in writing that an individual has a terminal illness and has been in a coma for at least seven days before they will cut off life support.
Boulder attorney Greg Schlender, who practices law with an emphasis on trusts, estates and elder law, says that often families wait too long: “If you wait until a parent is not competent or unconscious, then you have to go to court. We see that all the time.”
Also, consider a health care proxy, especially if your parent suffers from any illness with dementia. Like a durable power of attorney for finances, this gives you broad authority to determine the health care for your parent.
Carol says that she and her brother were lucky, because everything went smoothly. But even in the most easygoing families, disputes may arise. Emotions are complex when a family home is sold and siblings find themselves making decisions about their parents. Professionals, whether attorneys or counselors who specialize in issues of the elderly, may help soothe a family’s frazzled nerves.
No one can predict the future with any certainty, except that the baby boomer generation will swell the numbers of the aging–pushing the average life span to new records. Will it break the National Budget? Not necessarily, Brady contends. By the year 2057, if we don’t change our health habits, he predicts that nearly 100 percent America’s Gross National Product will be spent for healthcare.
“Nearly 80 percent of our health care costs are linked to diet, lack of exercise and smoking,” he says. Even so, all current signs of hospitalization indicate that Americans are changing their habits—for the better. Fewer elderly are hospitalized or placed in nursing homes than ever before.
What about those 20 percent whose illnesses are caused by genetic factors or unknown carcinogens? “We can afford that percent,” he says, “And it’s even possible to help our parents with Alzheimer’s live a quality of life. It’s tragic for the family, of course. But we can give them good care.”
If you’re a long distance caretaker, one solution may be to seek out the Agency for the Aging where your parent lives. Run by the Administration on Aging, this federally and state-mandated program provides transportation and nutritional oversight. Many offer volunteers who will fix minor house repairs.
The AOA, as it is called, has branch offices in every county nationwide. Check the local telephone book under the name of the county where your parents live: for example, Douglas County Agency of Aging. For Colorado, contact the Division of Aging at 303-620-4147. For nationwide help use the Eldercare Locator service available from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Contact them at 1-800-677-1116 or at their web site.
To defuse a potentially contentious situation among siblings, consider putting together a team of advisors: a real estate agent for the sale, a lawyer or law service for wills and living wills, a financial planner to go over investments, social security and pensions. Professionals can reduce the stress and disagreements that arise.
Other resources on legal issues:
- Check with Senior Law for advice devoted to seniors’ issues.
- The Legal Center, 455 Sherman St., suite 130, Denver, 80203 offers a service for the elderly and disabled.
- Consult Choice in Dying, Inc. for information on living wills.
- Look into the eligibility rules for Medicaid, Medicare at http://cms.hhs.gov
- Social Security disability income is at www.ssa.gov/
- Information about long-term care is available at the industry Web sitewww.longtermcareinsurance.org Because this is an industry site, it is not an objective survey.
- The National Council on the Aging Web site lists benefits available to older Americans:www.benefitscheckup.org
Additional helpful web sites:
- The Eldercare Network is a privately run agency in Colorado that may help you assess the needs of your parent.
- The Aging and Adults Services for Colorado web site offers support and advice.
- So many assisted living facilities are popping up that it’s hard to keep up with the newest. There is an industry web site that can narrow your search in any area. And although it doesn’t rate the quality of care, you will be able to glean basic information including ownership, cost or religious affiliation at www.alfa.org
- A selection of assisted living facilities in Colorado, www.assisted-living-directory.com/content/colorado.htm