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Archive for September, 2010

Keeping My Mom Independent

A phone call, a car ride and a community senior center changed my mom’s life, keeping her engaged and independent…and giving me peace of mind.

My mom called me one day at work and asked me if I could leave to take her to a “center.” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but I went to pick her up, feeling a little put out at this last minute request. We drove until we pulled in front of a building where a couple of elderly folks were coming out of the doors. Oh, I thought to myself, a senior center. My mom looked at the couple and smiled. I noticed something that day as my mom got out of the car and thanked me with a big smile on her face. She seemed genuinely happy and grateful to be there, and I was humbled by my earlier feelings of being inconvenienced by her call for a ride. I sat there a few minutes, reflecting on what had just happened.

My dad died 11 years ago, which left my mom alone and “different.” She just wasn’t as engaged or spirited after my dad’s passing. Since I work fulltime, it makes it difficult for me to spend a lot of time with her, and I worry about her. I realize now how that first trip to the center was a lifeline for both my mom and me. It was saving my mom from being alone and feeling isolated from the world. It was giving−and continues to give−her back the independent spirit she had always had before my dad’s passing. It also gives me comfort in knowing that my mom is spending her days in a safe and nurturing place, with folks looking out for her when I can’t.

I often look back on that day when she first called me for a ride. I am now comforted knowing the senior center offers my mother a place to go where she is accepted and respected for who she is. The center keeps her in touch with others who may be in similar situations, and more importantly, allows her to remain active. I am so grateful she asked me to take her that day, and I never hesitate when she makes a call for help.


– By Patricia Jones

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Caring for Grams and Grandpa

My Italian grandparents, affectionately called “Grams and Grandpa,” acted as the true matriarch and patriarch of the Cognetti family, ensuring there was lots of laughter, love and great food at every family gathering. My grandfather called my grandmother “his bride” even after almost 70 years of marriage! As time passed and they became more frail, my mom and her siblings were primarily concerned with their safety while my grandparents wanted their independence.

A family decision was made to purchase “Life Alert” bracelets for Grams and Grandpa, with the idea help would be close at hand when others were not around; but they stayed in a drawer in the bedroom with my Grams refusing to even consider wearing it. Grams and Grandpa “covered” for each other so we wouldn’t know that they were having a difficult time living on their own. When Grandpa passed away last year at the age of 96, Grams was alone and her children scrambled to make decisions for her care.

Watching my grandparents grow old and frail was difficult; and the process seemed to be punctuated with events that heightened emotions: moving to a smaller house, taking the car keys away, bringing in professional caregivers, and eventually moving them both to a nursing home. Difficult as these changes were, I give my Mom and her siblings credit; they always did their best to talk to my grandparents, no matter how difficult the conversation, and worked to help them understand that they were only looking out for their best interest. My grandparents did not always cooperate immediately or without push-back, but I do believe they knew they were loved.

My mom is the oldest, and Grams’ only girl, and she has primarily played the role of caregiver. As her only child, vicariously experiencing her role in caring for my grandparents, I plan on talking with her and my dad sooner than later.

– By Nicole Driebe, Vice President, Strategic Direction

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Helping Mom

My dad passed away in 2005, and ever since then, my mother has been declining both physically and spiritually. There is no doubt that her physical conditions (such as neuropathy from degenerative arthritis and a ripped rotator cuff) have had a negative impact on her spirits. It’s hard to stay “up” when you are in pain 24/7!

My sister and I have joined together in helping Mom the best we can. Recently, we talked with her about her medical needs and what she wanted moving forward. First, Mom wants to stay at home for as long as she can, so we have contracted a physical therapist to come in through Medicare. We also had some small modifications added to her bathroom to ensure her safety. After some deep consideration and thought, the three of us decided to make my brother-in-law the executor of Mom’s estate. And, Mom has made all of the arrangements necessary for what she calls the “Big Day.” She proudly says to us, “It’s all taken care of. Just take the card out of my wallet and make the call.”

It’s not easy watching my mother as she literally and painfully grows older; but I am glad that we have talked with her about the things she needs and wants. There are still other areas of concern for us as she continues to physically decline, but like Mom also says, “One day at a time.”

– By Hope Gibbs, Creative Director for Volunteers of America

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“I’m not even going there!”

Talking to my parents about where they would like to live as they grow older and more frail isn’t easy. But we’ve made the first steps in a difficult conversation.

My parents are in very good shape.  They take care of themselves; enjoy their free time; and stay close to many friends and family. They live in a community for people 55 and older who want to enjoy their retirements in a nice setting (a golf course, though neither of my parents play) with other active people.  So when I asked my mom where she thought she might want to live if she reached a point where she needed help because of declining health, her first response was “I’m not even going there.”  And she’s not “going there” any time soon, because she and my dad are in great health and having a lot of fun.

Still, I’d like to think if they do reach a point where they need help they would live close enough to me, and my younger sister, so that we could participate in that…not necessarily provide all the care, but check in on them, help them with getting good care and help with things around their home.  Right now, they live forty minutes away without traffic and up to two hours away in rush hour, which in Washington, D.C. is much of the day on Monday through Friday.  That’s too much travel time to just drop in, and more importantly, to be able to count on getting to them if there was an emergency.

So I pressed the question: where do you think you would like to live if things change and you need help?  We agreed that moving somewhere far from friends and family, even if it is sunny all year with less traffic, is not a good idea.  You risk becoming socially isolated and there may not be anyone to help when you need it.  We agreed that when you need help from a health care provider, like a home care agency or nursing home, one of the best safeguards for getting good care is having a friend or family member who checks in on you regularly. “Your grandmother had people who visited her every week when she was in the nursing home and that made a big difference,” my mom observed.  So where do my parents want to live if they need more help?  We don’t know, they are not going “there” anytime soon.  But we’ve started talking about it.

By Peter Paulson

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As we continue to move boldly forward with our focus on aging issues, we are launching a new public service announcement (PSA) campaign featuring celebrities, kicking off with Joan and Melissa Rivers. The campaign also will features radio and print components, as well as other initiatives designed to engage the public.

This is one of the most important public education efforts we have ever initiated. Early discussions are key to helping families plan for each other’s care but too often we wait for a crisis to hit, leaving us with limited choices made under duress. We all need to take that critical first step and talk about aging care issues with our families before it’s too late – start that conversation now.

Americans are facing one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in history as a projected 71.5 million people will be age 65 or older within the next two decades. In response to the demands this will have on current health care systems, we have been conducting studies, holding panel discussions with aging experts and policy makers, and elevating the issue of how to better prepare for a loved one’s care.

Using humor to address this serious subject, this first TV PSA in the campaign features Joan Rivers and daughter, Melissa Rivers, having (or not having) a conversation about Joan’s wants and needs as she grows older. The PSA ends with the tagline: “No matter who you are, it’s not easy talking about aging,” indicating that no one is exempt from the aging process or the need to prepare for their care as they grow older. It also provides viewers with valuable information to help them address this often overlooked, but necessary discussion with their loved ones by visiting a special web page.

So please talk with your loved ones about their plans for aging with dignity – we all deserve it.

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Inspiration for Recovery

As a long-time fan of the Texas Rangers, I’ve been deeply inspired by the story of outfielder Josh Hamilton, a promising young ballplayer whose career almost came to an end because of an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Hamilton ultimately left professional baseball for several seasons while he tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to battle his personal demons and undergo treatment for his addictions. He credits his faith in God for ultimately helping him overcome his troubles, return to the sport he loves and remain sober for the past five years.

Two years ago, Hamilton demonstrated his recovery on a national stage when he hit 35 home runs during the 2008 All-Star Game Home Run Derby, the second most in derby history. He has been named to the American League All-Star Team for the past three years straight and is expected to win this year’s American League MVP award.

Never shying away from his past, Hamilton has made a point to use his success as an opportunity to share his personal story of faith and redemption and set himself as an example of the power we all have to turn our lives around through hard work and a strong heart. He represents the kind of life changes Volunteers of America works to foster every day in dozens of treatment programs all across the country.

September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, and this month in particular we pay tribute to those who Volunteers of America has helped to build successful, happy lives by overcoming their addictions. Our organization is a leader in providing treatment services and offers supportive and residential treatment options to help adolescents, adults and their families to experience life without addiction and to become contributing members of their community.

Josh Hamilton’s level of success is unusual, but it shows the potential in all those battling addiction to embrace recovery and accomplish something extraordinary.

– By Mike King, President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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Let’s Talk

Rosemarie Rae, Executive Vice President, Strategy

Rosemarie Rae, Executive Vice President, Strategy for Volunteers of America

Talking with your loved one about issues surrounding health care, finances and basic needs and wants associated with aging is a difficult subject. But it can be done! Here is some helpful information to get you started from Volunteers of America’s aging expert, Rosemarie Rae.

It’s never too early!

Start well in advance of when you think you need to begin planning and talking about what parents or loved ones may need as they age…and when everyone is still in good health! It’s much easier to discuss care planning before anyone actually needs assistance. In the same way people save for college years in advance, we also need to start talking about our needs and wants before it’s too late to make good decisions.

As the future caregiver to my own parents, I offer this from my personal perspective, but this useful information can easily be translated to the parents’ point of view for those who wish to talk to their children about what they would like to see happen as they age and become frail.

Sound familiar?

It’s hard for my mom and dad to acknowledge their diminishing cognitive abilities and failing health. It’s hard as a daughter to witness the decline and imagine my mom and dad not being part of my life. And so, we say nothing – and my father hopes I don’t notice his changing memory and my mom doesn’t want to burden me with her financial needs.

How to Begin the Conversation

A great way to approach this sensitive and important subject is by letting your loved ones know that you want to support them, and they can count on you; but in return, they have to help you prepare. Start with something that feels a bit more neutral. Agree to organize and prepare the following:

  • An advance directive (a document that allows you to convey your decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time) and power of attorney.
  • A listing of assets and copies of related mortgages, investment statements, bank and savings accounts.
  • A listing of other assets such as cars and jewelry.
  • A listing and copies of insurance policies including long-term care (and if they don’t have it and can afford it – they should buy it), disability and life insurance policies. Remember to include policies that may be offered through employment or previous employment.
  • Document burial and funeral arrangement wishes

It may be helpful to engage an elder law attorney if you can afford it. Many communities offer low-cost or free long-term care planning services, so make sure to check community Web sites for resources.

Change Begins at Home

Understand caregiving and long-term care living options that may include home modification, home care, technology, assisted living, senior day centers, nursing homes and hospice. It’s important that families understand that there isn’t a single solution. Home care may not be feasible forever. Agree on when it might be right for assisted living or nursing home care.

Most of us envision aging in our own homes or the homes of our children. Realistically think through what home modifications will be required to facilitate that decision. For example, washer and dryers are frequently in the basement – not a practical solution for frail older adults. A care manager with expertise in elder care can be very helpful while investigating options. IONA Senior Services in Washington, D.C. is a wonderful resource. Many families blanch at the cost, but it is well worth the investment.

Talk Finances

Understand all possible benefits that may help pay for long term-care including Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Long Term Care and other private insurance. Because many seniors will not have sufficient resources to pay for all of their long-term care needs, read and understand the ins and outs of Medicaid benefits and the associated eligibility requirements. The Administration on Aging offers a Long-Term Care Savings Calculator that can give you a rough idea of how much you might need and whether you would be able or want to use your private resources to cover long-term care services.

From the Heart

So now you’ve made a compassionate commitment from the heart. But please know it’s extremely important to also emotionally prepare for caregiving. Agree to some ground rules as a family – mom/dad, the adult children, spouses and grandchildren. Caregivers are rarely prepared for the emotional “wear and tear” on their marriages and sibling relationships. This is particularly true when a daughter-in-law is the primary caregiver. While caregiving can be rewarding, it can also stir up years of resentments and unresolved family issues. Engaging a neutral third party to negotiate can be very helpful. Many communities offer senior conflict resolution.

Health and Happiness

If your parent doesn’t have a relationship with a gerontologist or internist, make sure they build one. Beyond carrying for medical needs, the doctor is often someone a family can turn to when facing care planning decisions. Many times parents don’t listen to their children and vice versa, but many times the medical professional can put everyone at ease with sound advice for all to follow. Proactively seek guidance from a gerontologist when you suspect that your loved one may be experiencing dementia or early signs of Alzheimer’s. It is so important to calmly share your concerns with your loved one and that you think a doctor’s visit is warranted due to certain symptoms you have observed. Happily, Alzheimer’s medication started early often means the slowing progression of symptoms associated with this common disease associated with aging.

Breathe!

Remember to breathe! This is a marathon not a sprint. Caregiving typically occurs over years not months. Ensure that you have included maintenance of your own life into your caregiving plan. Going on vacation, attending family reunions, spending time with our own children or just having time to ourselves is what keeps us sane and feeling connected.

By Rosemarie Rae, Executive Vice President, Strategy for Volunteers of America

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