Managing Through the COVID Lockdowns

The community where one of my clients has been living happily for over a year, sent me a note about new cases found and the process they were going to take to test everyone. This morning I learn that my client is one of 17 residents who tested positive today and my heart breaks. My colleague was going to visit because we have noticed she has been a little down lately.

No wonder. Many of us have seen the report that isolation is as harmful to us as smoking a pack of cigarettes’ a day. Forbes just shared the grim statistics of community residents across the county. “90 percent said they never left their campus, 60 percent said they never even went outside their building to take a walk, and more than half said they had no access to any activities within their facilities.”

In the beginning, we noticed that the forced lock-down actually benefited “Susan” because she was finally meeting and spending time with the other residents. However, when they went into full lockdown, where they have to stay in their rooms ALL DAY LONG, and eat their meals alone in their rooms, we can hear the sadness in her voice when we call.

This time I am going to start a silly postcard campaign so that she is at least getting a note and knowing that we miss her. We are all calling her too. Her family doesn’t live nearby so phone calls help. However, nothing is worse than being sick alone … AND too sick to even answer the phone.

My hope is that this former teacher will enjoy some silly postcards. Are there other ways to stay connected with someone who doesn’t use a computer, a smart phone, and for now, is too sick to talk on the phone.?

I sure hope that she ends up with a mild case. While she is in her 80s, she has very few other pre-existing conditions besides mild-cognitive impairment.

Please send me a note if you have any other ideas on how best to help those isolated during quarantine, and even worse, all alone as they fight COVID. Asked.

Guilt: The Hidden Emotion carried by Adult Family Caregivers

For those of us caring for or having cared for a loved one (dementia or major health issues that require you as the family member to step up and advocate), we know that guilt is a constant companion and lingering emotion long past death. What could I have done better, different? Why didn’t I do X, even though Mom made me in clear she wanted Y?

Since I help with the day-to-day finances, home upkeep and am often named as the Power of Attorney and Trustee, I am finding I’m very sensitive to the language used by other professionals on the care team. While I am not involved in managing the home care or medical choices, I am usually copied on the discussions about the medical needs since they usually impact the finances.

I still have crazy dreams every once in a while where I have failed to visit my Mom in her memory care community. It’s almost been five years since she had her heavenly departure, but I guess these are similar to the dreams I used to have where I forgot to show up for my final college exams.

If you serve in a capacity as a:

  • Friendly visitor
  • Care Manager
  • Financial Advisor
  • Personal Care Assistant

Please recognize that the adult family caregiver is already grieving, probably feels the constant companion of guilt for NOT being involved enough, and focus on sending positive reports and using the care team in place to manage those things that need addressing that you can resolve without the family caregiver. Of course you should absolutely speak up if you feel the individual is in danger or could harm someone.

What I believe after living this journey with my parents is that “You don’t know what you don’t know” — which is perfectly OK. However, if you have not ever lived as an adult caregiver, recognize that the person that is living this journey, what you share with them matters and I hope you will just consider that filter when you send them updates on visits with their loved ones. Suggested.

Helping Celebrate the Important Life Dates

My parent’s got married 67 years ago today. When I was the adult family caregiver, I worked to find unique and fun ways to celebrate with my parent’s when they could no longer plan or manage these life events.

I went back to read my post from 7 years ago, I openly admitted that slight effort felt overwhelming to me at the time. What I recognize now is that I didn’t have to manage everything. I could have asked a sibling to help, but none of them were local which brings some extra hurdles to both financial and medical task management. (I recognize I’m still making excuses for not giving up CONTROL ; > )

Celebrating 60 Years of Marriage

What I learned on the journey was that there are resources that I could have hired to help manage the medical needs of my parents (Aging Life Care Managers), and handle the day-to-day finances (Daily Money Managers).

What I regret now that both of my parent’s are gone was that I didn’t focus on being the daughter and find the joy in planning and celebrating these events with my parents. I got mired in the management and coordination of their care and finances. If I could do it again, I would manage things differently.

On their 60th anniversary, I did enjoy a nice visit. At this point they were in a two room apartment in Assisted Living. We had all dreaded moving our parents from their 3-bedroom apartment in Independent Living just a few months prior, but the community said we either moved them into Assisted Living or they would be moving them out of the community.

My parent’s were so happy with their new, smaller apartment. Neither myself or any of my siblings would have believed this to be true until we witnessed it.

I noted on this day we talked about how few couples make it to their 60th wedding anniversary. My Mom shared how lucky she felt they made it this far and was with their current life. At this point, both of my parents were living with dementia that was progressed enough that they could no longer manage their daily activities without assistance and cueing.

I’m honored I was able to celebrate this day with my parent’s. I hope you are able to find the joy when they are still on this earth here with you. Reflected.

What’s the best option now for my Mom with Dementia?

Everyone is growing stir crazy and the news seems to be so varied. I’m wondering how other families are navigating care.

My clients that have been aging in place either shut out all caregivers and have been managing on their own, or supported by hand-picked caregivers. The others that live in communities can’t leave without agreeing to a 14-day quarantine when they return — even my one client that had and survived covid-19.

I wish all generations grow old as magnanimously as the Silent (or Greatest) Generation. They are not complaining, but do look forward to regaining the ability to get out of the home. Many have shared this isn’t their first pandemic.

In both cases, it has been really tricky to close the gaps on those things that the family and the rest of the care team worked to smooth over. It’s given us a lot of new challenges to rise up to meet.

If covid-19 is now a regular part of our lives, how do we best manage to keep our loved ones at home, engaged, and supported? Some things that seem to work include:

  • Having select caregivers live in the home who are following social distancing guidelines (wearing masks out, avoiding crowded locations, washing hands frequently);
  • Minimizing outside services and vendors from entering the home and when they do taking the right precautions;
  • Layering in outside engagement with visits that occur outside;
  • Investing in new technologies to test to offer some additional engagement (Zoom calls, Alexa).

For my clients in communities, several of them are getting options and engagement which is a positive. Their biggest complaint is the limits on family visits (outside a window or through a plastic partition) and their ability to leave even through they know restaurants were not open and the grocery store was an adventure until itself.

Now that many states are reopening, and we know they are the most vulnerable population, how do we manage forward? These are a few things we are working through, what is your family doing? Asked.

The value of multigenerational family living $$$

For twenty years, my Mom told me she never wanted to live with her children. They bought into a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) also referred to as “Life Care” Communities so they would “never be a burden” to their children. For those of you that have seen the first few years of my blog … helping my parents was a very complicated affair. I won’t say it was a burden, but we could have done it way better had we not tried to directly follow my Mom’s wishes.

I’m going to first share the cost of their care using the CCRC.

Non-refundable deposit to get into the CCRC $500,000 (1999)
This was in 1999 when that was how it worked.

Annual “rent” for their Independent Living apartment $ 38,400
This was the average cost from 2000 to 2012 for a total of $499,200.

At the end of 2012, the community required they move from Independent Living into the Assisted Living community. These were their “discounted” rates for their community since they paid the half of million to move in.

Annual cost for Assisted Living (for two) $117,600 (2013)
Dad passed away in 2013.

Annual cost for Assisted Living (for one) $ 94,800 (2014)
Annual cost for the required personal care
assistant for my Mom $ 98,208

Assisted Living was not the right place for my Mom with dementia. The residents didn’t want to eat with my Mom would couldn’t learn their names and my Mom stopped going to the dining room for meals. As you may know, there is no kitchen in Assisted Living and my Mom was unable to prepare her own meals. She became very agitated and so they required we hire a personal care assistant for 12 hours. The memory care community in the CCRC was only for end-stage individuals with dementia so neither the Assisted Living or the Memory Care were the right fit. We made the choice to move her to a Memory Care community outside of their “Life Care” community. So much for the HALF A MILLION they paid to move into this community.

Annual cost of Memory Care community $ 81,600 (2015)
Annual cost for the necessary personal care
assistant for my Mom $111,600

My Mom was unsteady on her feet after a medication put her in a state of delirium in 2015. She kept falling and ending up in the Emergency Room (ER). We hired someone who could help her use her walker and assist her and keep her out of the ER.

So at the end of this journey, my parents spent over $1.5 million. They saved and invested well so they had the money to pay for their care. But knowing what I know now, we could have used that money better to manage the last fifteen years of their lives.

As I sit here today with many of my clients in communities cut off from family and at a higher risk of getting covid, I realize I need to start having a discussion with my children. When we or one of us needs help, I hope my children will be able to make the best decision for us at the time they need to make it. No preset conditions because our world and how we will care for older adults is also changing.

For $1.5 million, I would have preferred to have a home where my parents could have lived with us, but still had the freedom to be independent. When they needed care, we could have arranged to bring it in. Thankfully, our community has gobs of ways to stay engaged and active and we could have used that money to pay for the personal care assistants to help them lead their lives when they needed it.

From 2012 through 2015, I was spending more than 20 hours a week helping them in one form or another. The last three years of my Mom’s life cost over $500,000. Had she been living with us, I could have spent more time being a daughter instead of a family caregiver, bill payer, medical support and care manager. I now know how to bring in the support to help fills these roles and that would have been much less expensive and I believe more joyful for me and my Mom.

This is the first time I sat down to add it all up. What I do know is that the current care solutions, whether in their own home or in a community, are not ideal for most of my clients right now. They are all very isolated and we don’t see this ending any time soon.

The reality is that things change and what is important today, may not be important tomorrow. So leave some space for adaptability.

Might it be time for us to move back to multigenerational homes and return to a personal model of caring for our loved ones? Advocated.

To learn more about my journey and the tool I created to help families manage and coordinate the personal information to be a great advocate, get a copy of MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life

Moving into a Care Community that Matches Your Current Need

The move discussion is difficult for many couples and families. I did a three-part series on the topic to help provide a quick overview into some of the key learnings I have discovered. Here are the first two:
1) The Angsty Discussion About Moving: Life Care Communities
2) Moving Choices: Aging in Place – Part 2 of 3
and today is a final consideration on planning.

I do recommend you consider hiring a local Aging Life Care Manager to help navigate these choices and the current community options near you or your loved ones. I worked with one to help with my Mom and have seen them help with this discussion and process over and over with many clients.

The One Client Story That Illustrates How This Can Work

I started to work with Marge when she was living in her home. She had missed some bills, overpaid others, and was giving out her credit card number over the phone to charities daily.

After a year, it was time that she moved into an Assisted Living Community because living at home was just no longer a safe choice at 89. The new community was a combination of Assisted Living and Memory Care residents. She initially moved into an Assisted Living apartment but after about a month would wake up in the middle of the night and wander the halls in her nightgown worrying and sometimes tried to leave. They moved her into the Memory Care community so she would have more support and she would be in a secure section of the building. However it was hard for her to get integrated into a group of women and eventually she managed to actually break out. The community was just no longer a good fit so the Aging Life Care Managers searched for a better fit.

In addition to not really finding companionship with other residents, Marge had to pay for additional personal care assistance. Her monhtly community fees with the extra staff support now rang in at over $20,000 a month.

Six months ago she moved into a residential setting. She lives in a home with 5 other women with moderate stages of dementia and it’s a great fit for her needs. While this was not the right place for her initially, it is right now given how her dementia has progressed and the type of personal care that is best for her.

There is an Aging Life Care Manager who has been helping the family along the way, and while everyone thought the first community move was a great choice – and it was a great fit for a while – eventually it just wasn’t the right place for her needs.

Now at 93, we hope that she has made her last move. However, considering a move to a better fit is still an option and if she ever needed Skilled Nursing care. Her new community is now a third of the cost and she has found a loving group of residents and caregivers that are helping her find some happiness daily. It is the ideal fit for her right now.

I’m in the metro-DC area and we now of dozens of choices. I’m amazed at how many communities are still arriving.

Please know that you will make the best choice you can with the information you have at the time you need to make a decision. It will be easy to look in the rearview mirror and second guess choices made. I hope this has given you some insight into how to look at living options if you have loved ones living with dementia. Hoped.

Moving Choices: Aging in Place – Part 2 of 3

The first in the series The Angsty Discussion About Moving: Life Care Communities is a general overview of of how they are structured, the reality of the choice, and some things to know and consider if you are looking into this option.

I’m not gonna nove and you can’t make me.”

Now it is time to share some of the common issues and themes I see when a spouse is working to stay in the home with their loved one who needs more care as well as when adult children are helping a parent live at home alone.

In the beginning, it can be less expensive to layer in the care to support staying in their home. However, especially for a spousal caregiver, the care needs and isolation can become overwhelming in addition to the drain it takes on the health of the caregiver. According to the Family Caregiving Alliance, spousal caregivers ages 69 to 96 have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than noncaregivers in the same age group.

Often, the individual living with dementia doesn’t understand why their spouse is hiring outside help. Many living with dementia cannot recognize the necessity that someone help them through their day or the need for their spouse to be off the clock. The caregiving spouse starts to lose their outside connections and support in addition to skipping their own medical appointments and care needs.

Even though the couple is together, I am seeing that they both begin to feel isolated. The loss of a partner can also be more devestating since their partner might be their only engaging social connection. I saw this with my parents.

For those that choose to stay in their homes either with or without a spouse, there are engaging adult day programs for the individual with dementia. Isolation can actually lead to a faster cognitive decline and studies have likened the health risk to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Generally, I see many couples and individuals supported by an adult child living at home alone resist outside support. Unfortunately, about half the time a critical incident occurs and blows up this option and a scramble to employ support occurs. If no prior plans are made, the available options are usually not the best fit. A little support layered in early can be an ounce of prevention and provide more options should care suddenly be needed after an event.

Living at home can also end if an individual living with dementia starts to wander or becomes combative.

The successful couples and families managing a loved one living at home have been able to integrate supports for daily engagement through personal care assistants or the use of an adult day program for the individual with dementia. I know how challenging it can be to start so just ask them to try it out for a few hours and days. Forced changes usually are met with solid resistance.

As a security measure, individuals and families that plan ahead have also selected at least one community that might be a fit if they need to make a change and gotten on the wait list. You can always decline the space when it becomes available but remain in the queue.

PROS:
– Familiarity in the home environment can help someone living with dementia stay independent longer since they have long-term patterns established.
– Expense. If you only need some part-time support or help, or even sign up for an adult day program, the total cost of living is less expensive.
– The individual with dementia wants to stay in their home.

CONS:
– Isolation impacts health and cognitive function in negatives ways. Even introverts (like me) will benefit from social engagement.
– Spousal caregivers have an increased risk of death.
– When something happens, there is no quick solution to provide support (unless you have already planned ahead or gotten on a wait list at a local community).
– Moving after dementia has been diagnosed usually means that learning new things will be more difficult. It can be tougher to make friends and engage within a new community.
– Expense. There is a tipping point when bringing all the services to you can be more expensive.

RECOMMENDATION:
– Make a plan for social engagement and find ways to make it happen. Call your county Area Agency on Aging to find out what resources in your community are availble to help.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing the best option for your loved one and their primary caregiver — Just the best option for them and the caregivers when you need to make a choice. Advised.

Up Next, Moving As Needed

The Angsty Discussion About Moving: Life Care Communities

The discussion about if to move, when to move and where to move is an inevitable topic if you are caring for loved ones with dementia. Most people want to “age in place” and view a move as a huge negative … initially. However, there are many times when moving is better for the individual living with dementia as well as their caregiver — especially for a spousal caregiver.

What I have seen playing out with my family, friends and their families, and clients is that the “move” that created so much angst and difficulty is generally not the last move.

My hope is that knowing that may help you discuss what is really just the best move to make for now.

I’m going to walk through some scenarios in hopes that it will help you and your family make better informed decisions about caring for a loved one. There are no wrong or right choices … just the best choice for your loved ones RIGHT NOW.

Buying Into a Life Care Community

My parents bought into a “Life Care Community” and handed over nearly a half a million so they would “never be a burden to their children.” The Life Care Community model typically offers Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing options all on the same campus. The idea is that you moved through the system as needed.

The community helps with the activities of daily living (eating, bathing, walking, dressing …) but they do not help pay bills, manage lifestyle desires, cater to medical choices and preferences, or act as personal advocates. Because my parent’s had the belief that moving in meant their adult children would never need to be involved, caring for them was actually harder than it should have been.

At one point the community asked us to petition for guardianship because my parent’s were a danger to themselves and others. We refused and worked hard to manage through their needs while allowing them to retain their personal dignity.

My parent’s were eventually forced out of Independent Living and had to either move into Assisted Living or move out of the community. The smaller apartment and proximity in the community to the action was a big bonus and my parent’s were actually happier than I had seen them in years.

After Dad died my Mom struggled. In this community, the section for Memory Care only had people in very late stages of dementia. My Mom was always moving and needed a community that would give her space indoors and out to move. We moved Mom out of the community they bought into and oddly enough actually paid less monthly for a better care model for her needs.

The good news is that the “buy in” model is fading away. However, before you plop down a stack of money know that the community may not be the right fit for your loved one as their care needs change. In many communities, Assisted Living is filled with many individuals who have mild to moderate dementia. I watched as those that just needed help with dressing and bathing avoided my Mom who couldn’t remember their names or hold a meaningful conversation any longer. For a variety of reasons, the next level of care needs for your loved one may just not be a strength of the community care offered in a Life Care Community.

There are a lot of positives for these communities. Make sure you met with your Financial Advisor or run through the numbers if you can choose to either “buy in” or just pay a monthly rent. The unknown is if an when you may need to leave the community you are moving into. I know it’s a horrible wrench to throw into this difficult decision… but it is a very likely scenario that should be considered before a large financial investment is made.

PROS:
– Integrate and build friendships in Independent Living and have a place and connection for the rest of your life
– Some communities are now letting you move into your apartment and bring the varied level of care to you versus having to move through the different communities.

CONS:
– Have to move when your care needs change and the community doesn’t have the best fit for your needs.
– Expensive. Many now don’t require a lump sum payment. In our area we have a lot more choice and now they have different models for payment.
– It’s often hard to make new friends when you move into an established community.

RECOMENDATION: Ask if the community has a trial period so you can move in and see if it is truly the right fit for you now and can serve needs into the future.

I hope this helps you and your family as you are starting to have these discussions. Witnessed.

Up next, Aging in Place …

Tour the Local Adult Communities – #21

50plusadults

In my role as a caregiver, I learned that my own community had very few aging life care, memory, or assisted living communities. I toured all three at the time to understand what they had to offer. I learned that the one we liked the most had a really long wait list.

Now that I work with older adults and their families, I have seen that most of my clients are only moving in AFTER there is a critical incident. Sadly, that limits the choices since many of the best communities have long wait lists.

When I start to work with an individual and family because they need help with the day-to-day bill pay, medical care or home upkeep, I always suggest they tour and select one. You can get on a wait list and you never have to move in, but should something happen, YOU or YOUR LOVED one got to choose the place.

For many communities, the individuals on the wait list have the ability to use the community for any short-term rehabilitation or skilled nursing needs.

It is reported that one in three working Americans will become disabled for 90 days or more before age 65 (TMA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that at 65, 7 out of 10 American’s will need long-term care services. That information means that most of us are going to need some help and what we do know gives us more control over future events.

You may find a local 50+ community in the area that might be better suited your lifestyle. There are now a lot of choices you can make for living well.

You have probably received a postcard inviting you to a local community or heard about a nearby senior fair. It’s worth an hour of your time to get familiar with the resources for when someone needs them. Suggested.

Integrating into a Community is a Common Challenge

The topic of when to move and why is a common discussion as our parents are aging and our friends are starting to discuss downsizing. In general, most people want to stay at home. However, there are quite a few issues to address from predatory service providers, socialization, and fall issues.

70% of Assisted Living residents have cognitive impairment making it hard to make new connections.

The issue that concerns me most are the single individuals living at home who don’t consider how long they might go without someone knowing to call for help. I have heard too many personal stories of loved ones being on the floor for so long it creates an open wound (this can be in just hours in an older adult) or another complication develops that radically changes their health. A wearable pendant with a push button won’t help someone who has a head injury so I also ask those individuals to consider the ones that will call you if a fall is detected. Unfortunately, you many find you are getting called more than you would like, but too many calls is better than zero should you need assistance.

However, I also have a dear client who moved into a community and I see how hard it is for her to make new friends. It’s clear to me that she has lost some short-term memory which can make it difficult to form new friendships. A recent news I read cited that “70 percent of residents have some degree of cognitive impairment” in Assisted Living communities.

With the average age of most Assisted Living communities in the 80s, it’s no wonder that the transition can be more difficult if the majority of the residents are unable to make new friends.

My mother who was the ultimate hostess and always taught me how important it is to make the new person feel welcomed had a very tough time connecting with the residents in her community. As her dementia progressed, she was unable to make connections. The hardest thing to witness was how much the other residents in Assisted Living avoided those with cognitive issues. I get it, but still don’t like it. I think because I have cared for two parents with dementia, I will always be sensitive to the isolation that they must feel and will make an effort to connect. What I don’t know is if my own cognitive changes might make me less compassionate when I’m in my 70s.

So now I’m wondering if moving earlier is better for the individual so they can develop new friendships and be more familiar with the community before they reach the critical time when living at home is just no longer an option due to safely issues or the costs of bringing the care needed to you. I wish there was a better way to determine what is the best option. For now, I think we all work to find the best options for our individual needs Wondered.

I’d love to hear what your family did or how you are making these choices. There is no right or wrong answer I don’t believe.

Simple Steps to Safe Guard a Loved Ones Finances

After caring for two parents with dementia, I remind myself how much the checkbook meant to my mother. She had always managed the household finances and the suggestion that she was unable to manage a checkbook safely was something that needed to be left unsaid. I found that out after I said it a few times. ; <

The biggest problem I faced was a lost purse that contained the checkbook. She thought she left it in a cab, a store, at a bridge game … I couldn’t manage the hours each week spent looking for her purse. Today you can at least get a tile which would have been immensely helpful in keeping track of her handbag, but it wasn’t an option yet.

There are options to consider if your loved one would like to continue to manage their purchases:

  • Open up a new checking account and fund it with a small amount of money that can afford to be lost. I did this for my Mom. She had her checkbook, and I could move money into her account in small amounts as it needed to be replenished. If the checkbook never turned up or she had a check stolen we could easily close the account.
  • Consider setting up a TrueLink card. It is basically a credit card where you can set up limits on how much can be charged as well as products and services that it won’t fund. There is a fee for it, but the small expense is worth the money it will most likely save in potential losses.

Unfortunately, I have recently had clients both at home and living in communities be a victim of caregiver exploitation. One got my client to write her a small check, one purchased some face cream for my client and asked her for repayment of $85, and another apparently kept asking for gas money. Most agencies and communities require their caregivers agree to never accept money or gifts from clients. Should a client give them money, it needs to be reported to the community or agency. In the past month, I have reported three caregivers for violating this condition of employment. Sadly, I know they will just turn up at another agency.

What I struggled with was that this was one of the few remaining freedoms for my mom. She could no longer drive, or run the bridge games she loved, and that checkbook gave her an empowered sense of self. Now as a Daily Money Manager, I see all the ways that people are trying to get at the money of my clients.

Ultimately, someone needs to be vigilant about minding the finances as well as considering how to layer in these protections. A few bad apples spoil the lot. Reported.