We all want to be the spry senior with a sharp wit. For most elders, though, the hardships and the difficulties of aging start to factor in near age 85.
Because the 85-plusses are the fastest-growing segment of the population, as a society, we will need to shoulder the role of advocate.
As the tasks of daily living become more difficult, advocates can step in. They can be supportive of a senior’s desire to stay at home. Surveys report that most elders shun moving to senior communities or institutional living environments.
To support seniors at home, advocates can plug into a range of roles. A team approach is best.
An advocate can be a housekeeper, handyman, cook, nutritionist, laundry person, nurse, medication supervisor, transportation provider, gardener, bookkeeper and bill payer, attorney, financial planner, personal hygienist, geriatric doctor, geriatric care manager, occupational or respiratory therapist and, most importantly, a companion providing social interaction and a trusted younger friend who can be a sounding board.
As you can see, it takes a team of family, friends and professionals — medical and non-medical.
Building a team
Putting together and managing this caregiving team is not an easy task. It is important to recognize needs as they arise. Do not discount or put out of mind the early warning signs a senior may display. By taking of care needs as they crop up, you can incrementally put in place a care infrastructure. Piece by piece, you’ll build a safety net.
One difficulty for families: Often, family members are working during the day — this is the time when care is most needed. A solution: Hire a caregiver for a couple hours a day to clean the house, cook, do laundry, provide companionship or drive a senior to a medical appointment. A handyman can do small home repairs and yard maintenance.
For low-cost transportation options, you should look into Accessible Services from King County: metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/accessible/programs/index.html.
Warning: If you hire workers and caregivers directly, you must conduct thorough background checks.
Seniors are vulnerable, and you do not want your senior scammed or abused by a worker brought into their home. Most care agencies investigate workers before sending them to an elder’s home.
If you hire directly, you are responsible for withholding payroll taxes and the timely submission of taxes and payroll reports.
When there is no advocate
People should be able to age with dignity and respect.
What happens if there is no family support? Sometimes, neighbors and friends can cooperatively put in place a network of services that will keep a senior safe at home.
If this network begins to fail or needs become too great, a geriatric care manager or social worker can be called upon to assess the senior and their needs. Seek out a care manager with proven expertise, a warm personality and a dedication to the welfare of seniors.
If it is determined the senior’s needs exceed the abilities of the care team or if the elder’s safety is in question, the care manager may suggest more hours of in-home care. The senior may need to hire professionals for bathing, dressing, assistance with meals and other needs. Help might be necessary several hours a day; over time, this could progress to 24/7 care.
When the logistics of staying at home are impractical — cost, maintenance or safety — the care manager will recommend a move to a senior-care community. Most likely, this would be an assisted living facility, a senior family home or a nursing facility.
At these facilities, care can be good, but, unfortunately, care can also be poor and neglectful. A senior without family or close friends is without an advocate and at the mercy of the institution in which they reside.
FYI: In institutional environments, independent caregivers from an outside agency can be hired to supplement and supervise the institutional care.
Volunteer to protect seniors
There are 350 volunteers in Washington state who will stand up for seniors living in institutional care facilities. These are known as long-term care ombudsmen.
A King County ombudsman, each of whom receives 32 hours of training, visits residents of the county’s 68 nursing homes, 151 assisted living facilities and 1,100 adult family homes. If they find caregiving to be substandard or detect neglect or abuse, they report the situation to the facility’s administrators and then check back to see that the problem has been corrected.
Unfortunately, a recent Seattle Times article cites a huge shortage of volunteer ombudsmen. To adequately monitor our state’s 68,000 seniors who live in care facilities, there should be 500 ombudsmen, not the current 350. In King County, only 45 percent of care facilities are checked regularly. This is shameful, and it’s disrespectful of the seniors who have made our state the great place it is.
You can volunteer to be a long-term ombudsman by calling (206) 623-0816 or visiting www.waombudsman.org online.
MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.