September 2009 Issue
All the Comforts of Home
It’s been 10 years, but Larry Mason remembers all too well the stress and struggles his mother, Joan, experienced in her determination to take care of his grandmother, Camilla, as she aged.
For More Information
These resources will help you make informed choices about caregiving:
- Senior Helpers of Northeastern Ohio: 877/922-STAY, ohioseniorassist. com
- Ohio Department of Aging: 866/243-5678, aging.ohio.gov
- AARP Ohio: 866/389-5653, aarp.org/ states/oh/
- Senior Independence: 614/433-0031, icaregiver.org
“Initially, things were delightful, and we were truly an extended family,” he says. “But as my grandmother began experiencing bouts of dementia, it became physically overwhelming for my mom.”
Although Joan never lost the resolve to take care of Camilla, she found herself losing control of her own life — whether it was making the time to schedule a doctor’s appointment for herself or squeezing in an occasional lunch with friends.
“Even going to the grocery store created a lot of pressure,” Mason recalls. “My mom would have to wait for my dad to get home from work, make sure someone was available to sit with my grandmother and then rush to the store and rush back home.
“Although my mother wouldn’t have it any other way when it came to taking care of my grandmother, her entire life was consumed.”
The insight Mason gained about what his family faced in their attempt to take care of a loved one at home led to his becoming president and CEO two years ago of Senior Helpers of Northeastern Ohio, a home-care agency based in Fairlawn. Certified caregivers at Senior Helpers provide assistance with a variety of tasks, including meal planning and preparation, medication management, light housekeeping, transportation to medical appointments and personal hygiene care.
“Our passion is twofold,” Mason says. “We want to help people who want to continue to live in their home be able to do so for as long as possible. And we want to offer their caregivers the respite they deserve.”
Staying home rather than moving into a continuing-care or assisted-living community is an idea whose time has come,” he adds. Recent U.S. Census data indicates that the number of elderly parents living with adult children grew 62 percent in the past seven years. Statistics from the National Alliance for Caregiving are a sobering reminder of the toll the task can take: Forty percent of those caring for an elderly family member report that they miss work on a regular basis to tend to their loved one’s health needs; 80 percent report emotional strain and 42 percent were unprepared for balancing work and caregiving responsibilities.
As a result, Mason says, “People seem to be tuning into home care and what it delivers to seniors: the choice and comfort of staying in a place they are familiar with at a cost that’s less than moving.”
Barbara Riley, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, says the idea of staying home is one that is resonating with baby boomers.
“Not only is home care coming into its own, but it’s being recognized as an alternative — not just for elderly loved ones, but for folks like myself,” Riley says. “As our generation begins taking care of our parents, we’re becoming more conscious of our own futures and realize the time to make choices is now.”
Riley points with pride to federally funded classes that help people live at home longer. They include Healthy U, a health-management program for people with chronic concerns, including diabetes, asthma, emphysema, heart conditions, high blood pressure and arthritis; A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls, which provides the opportunity to learn strength and balance exercises; and Active for Life, a 20-week program that offers the motivation and skills to become more active every day (call 800/422-1976 for more information).
“Staying at home,” Riley says, “should not be an impossible dream.”
Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services, a not-for-profit organization that owns and operates 11 continuing-care communities across the state, is also committed to helping seniors age where they want to — whether it’s in the place they’ve called home for 50 years or a retirement community they moved into several years ago that provides a continuum of care.
“Throughout history, staying at home to receive care has always been the first choice,” explains Nancy King, executive vice president and chief operating officer of OPRS’ Senior Independence division. “Continuing-care communities are a remarkable alternative, and even if you live in one, you can avail yourself of home care opportunities.”
Thanks to Senior Independence division, more than 60,000 people age in place by taking advantage of a host of services, ranging from home-delivered meals and adult day care to skilled nursing and physical and occupational therapy.
“These days, when we talk about aging, we’re talking about at least two generations of people,” King says. “And just as you didn’t want the same things at 20 that you did at 40, you’re probably looking at different lifestyle choices at age 65 than you are at age 105. Just as not everyone makes the same choices, so it makes sense for OPRS to offer a wide range of services.”
No matter what option you or your loved one chooses, Jane Taylor, state director for AARP Ohio, advises that it’s never too early to start the discussion about it.
“We want people to be in charge of their own futures,” Taylor says. “Which is why we encourage them to sit down and talk with family members so their wishes and plans are clear from the get-go and everyone is on the same page.”
Today’s economic uncertainty and fluctuating home values, she adds, are also leading people to make the decision to stay put and seek out options other than moving to a health-care community.
“Certainly if care needs are great, a nursing facility may be the ideal solution, Taylor says. “But many alternatives now exist. Knowing where to look for help and enlisting the support of family and friends could just be the right option for you.”
To start the dialogue about long-term living needs, AARP offers a variety of suggestions — from ways to remodel your existing home to make it safer to getting your financial porfolio in order to navigating the maze of health-insurance issues. Taylor also recommends talking to friends who have found agencies and businesses that offer services, and seeking advice from your local senior center or from the Area Agency on Aging that serves your community (call toll-free 866/243-5678, to be connected to the appropriate office for your geographic location).
“Luckily for all of us, we’re living longer,” Taylor says, “so the opportunity to stay in a community and live as independently as possible is really important.
“And every day more resources are becoming available to help people do just that.”
Tips for Choosing a Caregiver
Inviting someone to come into your home to care for a loved one can be a daunting task. Here are a few questions to ask in order to ensure you’ll find the ideal person for the job:
- How long has your company been in business?
- Does the company have a licensed vocational nurse or RN on staff?
- Are workers bonded and insured?
- How extensive are criminal and background checks?
- How are employees selected? Do you make sure they are truly committed to being outstanding caregivers and that it’s more than just a job to them?
- Can you send me detailed information describing your services and fees?
- What are your financial procedures?
- Are fees negotiable?
- Can we set up a time to discuss the details of my loved one’s care needs?
- Would you mind providing me with references?
- Can I visit the home of people whom you are providing care for in order to get their opinion of the service?