The Expected is Still Unexpected

On July 28th, at 1:00 am in the morning my phone rang, it was the hospice nurse informing me that Mom had died at 12:28 a

Mom and her skydiving team – Frances, Jeff and Elizabeth

And yes, our hospice nurse had prepared us for this  . . . he said as nicely as he could that she was “leaving”, that “it was time”  . . . using gentle words to describe death.  Still, when the call came early Friday morning I wasn’t’t “prepared.”  Why?  Because no one ever is.

As you know if you’ve been reading my columns, the family had done all we could to prepare for death.  So the lesson learned was PREPLAN.  My brother and I had  hired a funeral home which allowed us to make our father the focus of our lives in the the immediate days after his partner of 63 years died. He insisted on seeing her one last time, my brother called the funeral home and they prepared her for Dad’s visit.  My father insisted on a small, familial memorial service — not a problem, we focused on the service and the reception after.  Caterers were hired, programs were printed and music abounded.

And yes, all this costs money but there was no “guilt money”.  We knew what we could spend and had done all the budgeting when hiring our funeral home.  In fact, we told the director that when Dad dies he wants his ashes placed in a military cemetery in Ft. Worth, TX – next to one of his best friends, our cousin General Akin,  “so they can pal around.”  The funeral home takes care of that, as well.

So, yes it all worked to our benefit.  Mom was cremated, some of her ashes placed in the ground at the nearby churchyard and the rest to be mixed with Dad’s when we take them to their final resting place.  What doesn’t go away, nor should it, is the grief.  it comes in waves.  At the service when I spoke I didn’t shed a tear.  Two days later, telling a ‘stranger’ the story, my eyes welled with tears.

Grief counselors tell you this is what happens.  I was shocked at myself, I knew Mom was close to death but when the finality happens it hits hard!  We even had time for last rites, last songs, last moments  . . . but death is final and no amount of preparation prepares you for it.

Revel in the memories, think of the good times and admire your loved ones for all they accomplished  . . . including you!  Yes, they do live on in our hearts.

Nursing Homes – Often the End Game

I am confident most of you heard the news about the eight seniors who died from overheating.  They were all in a licensed “nursing home” in Hollywood Hills.   ‘Nursing Home’ is a euphemism for a home for seniors who are at the poverty level and qualify for medicaid.

Nursing homes are like every other industry — they have to make money to survive.  In the case of nursing homes they’re paid by the state medicaid fund and it’s per pa

The nursing home visit

tient.  This fund is made up of state and federal dollars.  Obama Care expanded medicaid in the states who took the federal dollars but Florida is not one of them.

Bottom line, these are not the luxurious environments for either staff or residents.  In my parents case, Mom had been in a lovely residential facility where she was one of three or four people.  Her Long Term Care Insurance paid for it.  She outlived her two year policy and we had to place her in a Nursing Home.  It was our only realistic option as Mom’s care in an Alzheimer’s facility would be close to $7000,00 a month.  Mom and Dad couldn’t afford it and neither could the children.

In pursuit of the best we could find, I  went to several nursing homes and learned more than I needed to know.  All these homes are very austere and it’s a shock!  Bare floors, usually

formica, and waiting rooms with plastic chairs.  Almost all the receptionists were behind a barrier — some better designed than others.

The patient population is made up of mostly Alzheimers and Dementia sufferers.  All the residents are in a wheel chair, a portable bed or never moved from their beds.

Another surprise, the aides often use pulleys attached to patients to change their clothes, move them to the shower or simply change their diapers.  Depending on the home, these medical aides must change and clean about 19 patients each.  Some work in tandem others work solo — it all depends on the chore.

Further, most patients are only bathed twice a week, maximum three times a week.  During one of these showers their hair is washed.  Bottom line, it’s not how we envision our last days, weeks, months or years of life.

On the good side, the ‘better nursing homes’ have excellent care.  They hire a team of Geriatric Doctors that include Psychiatrists.  These Geriatric groups come to the Nursing Home through a PPO and the doctors physically visit once a month.  There is usually a Podiatrist group that also visits once a month (Medicare pays for podiatry services) and a dentist who comes once a quarter. The day to day care is with the Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Professional Nurses (LPNs), physical therapists and medical technicians.  They also have a contracted Hospice service.

Here are some tips when you need to look for a nursing home:

What is the turn-over rate of its employees

Needless to say, the less turnover the better the place.  If the staff is not leaving then something is going well — usually their paid above average wages

Is there a hair salon

If there is a hair salon then there’s a market for it.  This means the residents take pride in how they look.  People who take pride in themselves care about their environment.

Is it clean

As we all know, cleanliness is godliness

Is there a smell

Again, if it smells that means it’s really not clean – no matter how good it looks

Is there a smile on the faces of the staff

A smiling staff means a happy staff

Again, hopefully it doesn’t come to this but if it does, know how to choose the best one.

Tough Love – Parenting Your Parents

It’s not easy to parent your parents — it’s not a pleasant role — it means Mom, Dad or both are getting weaker and none of us want to admit the role reversal has begun.

When I consult with clients I hear time and time again — Mom doesn’t want to leave her home, Dad is not going to allow any one else to pay his bills,  There is no need to force anyone — the name of the game is to persuade in an assertive, caring and respectful manner.  For their sakes and yours, embrace the role!

After Mother’s decline into Alzhiemers, my brother and I were thrown into the role reversal with little or no direction.  Here’s what we learned:

Accept Your Role. No one else can do it with your love so embrace it and consider it an honor.  But for them, you wouldn’t’t be here.

Be Assertive.  Yes, at times you will have to tell Mom or Dad (or both) what to do.  Of course Mom doesn’t’t want to move from her home — you have to tell her (gently and politely) that she must.  You explain the reasons, answer her questions and, as she did with you, persuade her that “this’ is the best way.

Pay Attention to the Basics.  Are your parents showering regularly?  Are they having regular meals?  Are they taking their medication on a timely basis?  If not, see above — it’s time to be assertive and decide how best to move them forward.

Insist.  Or, if you prefer, be firm.  When your parents resist keeping on insisting.  “Dad, we have to do this, we’ve gone over it a million times – let’s not fight about it.”  Again, no yelling or shoving – just gently insist.

Prepare all the financial and legal documents.  Taking the helm of your parent’s finances is a daunting but necessary task.  Make yourself, or your sibling, a signer on their checking accounts then have them sign a Power of Attorney for both financial and medical decisions. This must be done before they lose their mental capacity.  If you don’t do this it will be much more difficult and costly when they lose their ability to make decisions.

At the end of the day, here is what you have to remember – when it comes to parenting your parents you have three choices:

  • You care for your parents yourself
  • You hire someone to care for your parents
  • You allow them to enter a Medicaid facility

These alternatives all have pluses and minuses.  Most of the decisions are based on finances and nothing and no-one is perfect so after you’ve been assertive, and insistent forgive yourself – your parents did!

Observations After a Disaster

If you haven’t seen the video of the residents of a nursing home in Houston, Texas sitting in waist high water simply search “video of seniors in waist high water” in your browser.   School children were evacuated, families were evacuated and who was left behind  . . . seniors.  Two weeks later, in the aftermath of Irma, 14 seniors die from overheating in a Broward County Nursing Home.

If these seniors had been children, the outcry would have been much louder and punishment swifter.  An excellent example is the most recent earthquake in Mexico.  The school that fell down on top of 24 children and four adults had rescuers there in minutes with TV crews transmitting  the entire search for more than three days.  I fear that would not be the case if this had been a home where senior citizens lived.

It is this dichotomy that led me and my partners to found Parent Your Parents (PYP)(parentyourparents.com).  How could anyone allow their “charge” to drown or die from overheating.   Yes, these Assisted Living Centers and Medicaid funded nursing homes are negligent but isn’t that also the case for the families who left them there?  Would they have ever done that to their children??

There is no criticism here — simply a look in the mirror.  If your parents or grandparents are in one of these homes today the chances are EXCELLENT that you will be as well. Yes, we can buy Long Term Care Insurance  but today’s policies don’t cover you for the duration of your life.  We are living longer and unless you have a minimum of $5 million there is a very good chance you will use all your money in the last five years of your life for healthcare.

As a child of an aging parent or loved one there comes a time and you must take charge.  It isn’t easy and it wasn’t easy for them when you were a cute kid begging for a kitty and they said no.  But, if it’s time – face it .

First, honestly asses where they are mentally and physically.  Discuss options with your siblings and present a united front — just like your parents did when you were a child.  You must have a Living Will, you must have a Power of Attorney – one for finance, one for medical.  You must go to the doctor with them and make certain they are receiving the best medical care.  The   doctors MUST know that you are on top of their health.   (Remember, I fired my parents doctor, see Article 2 – How to Get the Best Care Through Medicare),

Secondly — ask them what insurance they have  . . . is it life insurance, supplemental health insurance, burial policy, Long Term Care —- and, the most difficult question — what is their financial status?   None of this is easy but none of it takes financial acuity — it takes emotion, love, tenderness and hand holding.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents took you through some of life’s trials with the same skills?

Disasters like Irma, Maria and earthquakes bring out the best and the worst.  Now is the time to be the best.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END, HOSPICE CARE

Well, the call finally came, “Ms. Reaves, we’d like to re-evaluate your Mother.  She has lost more of her core function and we think she might be a candidate for Hospice care.”

Here’s the thing, dear reader,  I thought Mom was already a candidate for hospice but she wasn’t’ approved the first time she was evaluated.  Now, she is approved and I realize — this could be the end.  My emotions are mixed.  I’m sad one minute then remember her non-existent quality of life and I know it’s appropriate and its time.

The wonderful thing about Hospice care is that the focus is the patient.  The goal is to keep her or him as comfortable as possible.  This means that besides the care Mom is already receiving there will be someone there two to three times a week to make certain she has no pain and is comfortable.

What is Hospice?  I had to ask myself that question and found several definitions.  First, it is a type of care and philosophy that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, as well as attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.   OK – so what is palliation?  Palliation is a service that makes you feel better even though it can’t cure you.

The term “Hospice” comes from the 11th century where hospitals had an area that  was “hospitality for the sick, wounded or dying”.  In today’s medical and insurance world, it is palliative care for the incurably ill, either in a medical facility, nursing home or at home.  Medicare covers it therefore if you’re a US Citizen or Green Card holder you are eligible.

To qualify for Hospice the patient is evaluated by a doctor or nurse practitioner and he prognosis must be that the person is terminally ill and has less than six months to live.  The truth is many hospice patients live longer than six months at which time they are re-evaluated.  If placed in Hospice again, the six months starts over.

In today’s medical world, (and we know I’m a bit cynical) there is both Hospice care and Palliative care.  Hospice is covered by Medicare, Palliative care is not.  It is often covered by insurance (if you have a PPO) or you can pay out of pocket.  In both cases, the patient is going to die in the “short term” — but it might be more than six months.

This is VERY IMPORTANT:  once your family member goes into Hospice or Palliative Care it means that there are NO MORE CURES. The caretakers want the patient pain free, and supported both emotionally and mentally.

If your parent or grandparent is in an Assisted Living Facility and begins a decline, the Facility prefers them to be in Hospice or Palliative Care.  This means your family member will be receiving more attention but that also means their regular doctor is not in charge anymore.  It’s also a signal that death is not far away – a sobering moment for you and your loved one.

BEST CARE OPTIONS

During the journey many of us will take with an older family member there will come the juncture of whether to have in-home care, a move to a smaller place or a move to an assisted living facility.

On an emotional level, we all think it’s better for everyone if they stay in their home with in-home care.  That works if family members are within a 15 minute drive.  If this isn’t the case then one must really begin to think about “the best care.”  Best care means the best for everyone concerned.  These are tough issues and we tend to put off these decisions until you need to make them.  That is the wrong time — you’re under an amazing amount of pressure, emotions are swirling and not all family members agree on the definition of “best care”. 

My father always said he was going to die in his home.  That he would only be taken out “feet first”.  The children always went along with him because there was no need to rock the boat.  Mother, whose dementia was getting worse, would agree with Dad.  In order to accommodate Dad, we hired a caregiver to come in three times a week to “entertain” Mom.  The bad news – caregivers don’t stay forever.  (In this case 6 months which is a long time in the caregiver world.) We hit the jackpot with our first one but then the next three simply didn’t do the job.  They were late, wouldn’t’t show up  . . . all the usual employment issues.

In our opinion, several questions must be asked:

How many family members living in the home?

Do both need care?

How mobile are they?

Does anyone drive?

Do they need 24hr care or will 4 to 6 hours 3 times a week suffice?

Does anyone have dementia/alzheimer’s?

Once these questions are answered then it’s easier to come up with a solution.  Following are some practical things to think about:

How much money is there?

Is there Long Term Care policy?

Does one need more care than the other?

Is it only one family member?

Do you need to be “medicaid ready”?

Are there other benefits for which your family member is eligible?

In the case of Mom and Dad we had a catastrophic event and we had to move them from their home to a totally new location (see my first article).  This experience is how I know that asking your parents what they want done in their ‘final chapter’ is easier said than done.  It’s an extremely difficult conversation and we tend to avoid it.  DON’T!  If you don’t think you’re capable of having this discussion, hire someone to assist – sometimes our loved ones hear bad news better from outsiders.  If you’re emotionally wrung out because you’re in the middle of the “journey” — you are not alone.

Parenting Your Parents has mental health professionals who are skilled in family matters as well as move managers (a person who manages the entire move — from sitting with the person and deciding what to keep, to selling/giving away the surplus and hiring and managing the move) — all of whom assist in making any transition as easy as possible  . . . and none are easy. 

IN HOME CARE – BE WARY, BE INFORMED

It’s a good news/bad news scenario.  The good news, you have enough money to have in-home care.  The bad news, it’s implementation time — finding the right company or person.  This is a slippery slope — especially in South Florida.

Most of us reading this article have never dealt with caregivers —for ourselves or other family members.  Questions to keep in mind:  Is there a license necessary for this type of work?  What happens if the person harms my family member?  Is there a background check for the caregiver?

These questions are easily answered if you use a reputable bonded company.  A “bonded” company is one who has a “surety bond”  and if anything happens to your loved one like theft, maltreatment, or injury, the company cannot hide behind bankruptcy — the bonding company is responsible for payment.

In south Florida many people hire caregivers because a friend recommended him or her or the person had worked for another friend’s family member or its someone just in from Latin America and they need a job.  It’s less expensive but it’s dangerous.  If there’s theft or maltreatment you have no recourse — these people do not have the means to compensate for their conduct.   We’ve all heard stories of stealing, maltreatment of the patient and overall sloth behavior.

One very well known man in Key Biscayne had in-home care for him and his wife.  She died and it was just him.   The home care folks started taking advantage — eating his food, taking his “change,” purchasing his food (and theirs) and only tending to him when his out of town daughter called to say she was coming to visit.  Luckily, his neighbor became suspicious when he found the man disoriented and walking the halls.  He took him back to his condo only to find the “helper” watching television and eating — totally unaware the patient had left.  He chastised the employee, called the daughter and put an end to the in-home care.

Bottom line – you do not want your family members in the care of people who don’t care.  The safest thing anyone can do is call a reputable company and pay the extra $2.00 or $3.00 an hour that a bonded company would charge.

Parenting Your Parents partners with ComforCare  — not only do they have well trained caregivers but, if you qualify, they can find you free in-home care!  Contact us if you need us.  hfrancesr@parentingyourparents.guru.

Boring But Useful: Medicare/Medicaid – They Sound Alike But Are Very Different

BORING BUT USEFUL:

MEDICARE – MEDICAID — THEY SOUND ALIKE BUT ARE VERY DIFFERENT

Many of us think if we’re eligible for Medicare then we’re also eligible for Medicaid — although very few of us understand the difference.  I am going to attempt to explain that difference without putting you to sleep.

MEDICARE: Medicare is a federally funded insurance program for “seniors.”  It is available to all US citizens and green card holders from the age of 65 and higher.  There are two parts:  Part A (Hospital Coverage) and Part B (Medical Insurance).  If you choose a simple ‘medicare’ then you also have to choose doctors and hospitals that accept medicare.  (Please see my article, “Choosing Good Care Within the Medicare System”).   In 2017 the Part B premium average is $134 but if you have a higher income it can go as high as $600.00/month.   If you live on or close to your social security income it’s $109.00 on average.

For hospital insurance you usually pay a deductible — this can go into the thousands which is why many people choose to have a “supplemental” plan.  These plans are run by insurance companies and often are free — which is an HMO.  As you know, we at Parenting Your Parents, recommend PPO plans which is an out of pocket cost.

MEDICAID:  Medicaid is a state administered program with some funds coming from state taxes and other funds coming from federal Medicaid grants given to needy states.  (In other words, the poorer the state the more federal funds.)  The benefits are intended for low-income patients who cannot otherwise afford medical assistance.  To be eligible for Medicaid, you must meet a mandatory list of standards that are partially enforced by the federal government.

Again you must be a US Citizen or Green Card holder to be eligible.  For the purposes of seniors, they must be in a nursing home facility or receive “home or community-based care.”  Bottom line, a senior cannot have assets or income over the poverty level if they want to qualify for medicaid.

Here is the kicker – qualifying for Medicaid triggers a five year look back to ascertain that you (the senior or the child) have not recently transferred a home, bank account, and/or other assets  to avoid paying for nursing home care.  And this is the tricky part — when do you begin the asset transfer to children, a trust, and/or a power of attorney.  And that is where Parenting Your Parents is a resource.

This is a very tough subject.  In our experience  parents don’t want to give up control and the kids are the prime suspects, i.e. “they want to take our money away and use it for vacations!”  For the kids the hardest part is that one parent is going to go into a nursing home and you have to be prepared (unless you have more that $10 million in assets).

Bottom line — ask yourself — do you want these homes to get your money or do you want the money used for the greater good — whatever that might be.  Once that question is answered, you can move forward in either direction  . . . protecting your assets now or letting fate take her course.

The Airport Wheelchair – How to Navigate the System

THE AIRPORT WHEELCHAIR – HOW TO NAVIGATE THE SYSTEM

The other day, while running in Crandon Park, I came across my friend, Lilian, whose elderly Mom is in pretty good health.  Every year she and her Mother go to Santa Fe, New Mexico for mother-daughter time.  This means, she, like me, needs to utilize the wheelchair services provided at airports.  We’re both experts on the do’s and don’t’s and have compared notes.  So, although I’m writing the column, Lilian is a great source of research.  She, like many of us, is living it.

Eulan the wheelchair provider at Miami International Airport, has no competition — this means they don’t have to try  . . . and it shows.  When Dad first needed a wheelchair, I used to drop him off at Door #3, walk him in and sit him down in the wheelchair area.  I’d make sure his name was in the book with his flight time.  Then I would leave.  Big mistake — basically,  wheelchair dependent travelers are at the mercy of strangers.  It’s as if they are cows in a pen being led to slaughter.  OK, I exaggerate . . . but only a little!  Too many times,  a person is forgotten and are raced to the gate in a cart.  Think of how stressed you are when you might miss your flight and double that feeling for someone who has no control and elderly.

That’s not all, the Eulan workforce, i.e. the wheelchair drivers, are paid minimum wage and expect tips.  They don’t care about your family member, they want to transport as many people in the shortest amount of time and make money.  I remember one particular scene I created when the wheelchair driver left my father alone to retrieve other passengers from other TERMINALS (not gates)  to place them all in one cart!  This means Dad is sitting in a chair for 20 to 30 minutes.  Luckily, I was with him and that didn’t’ happen. BUT, it does happen and it happens more than it should

This is the system and although I don’t like it we must live in it.  Here are my suggestions:

Ensure that you have $5.00 bills, $10.00 bills and $20.00 bills in your pocket/wallet;

Get a pass from the airline to escort your loved on to his or her gate;

If you’re a member of the American Express Centurion Lounge or an airline club, have the wheelchair take your loved one there by wheelchair then arrange for a guest services cart to take him or her to the Gate at an appropriate time — these clubs specialize in customer service.  Whoever the driver is give him $10.00.

If you’re not a member of a club then escort the wheelchair and the attendant to the gate and tip the attendant well.  (I do it on length of transport – the more distant the gate the larger the tip with Gate 60 being $20.00.) Give your family member the $5.00 bill and tell the attendant that it’s for him after he takes the family member to the door of the airplane.  This is a little extra security — it mightn’t always work but it usually does.

For connecting flights in other airports stay with your family member.  They will take them off the plane and leave them in the wait area to go get more folks off the plane.  That’s when you pull out the $5.00 and tell them you have a connecting flight and need them now — ask them to call a peer to retrieve the other passengers.  When you arrive at the gate — another tip.

Yes, it costs money but its the best way to work within the system and have peace of mind.  If you have other suggestions please let me know.  If you can’t don’t have time to do this for your family members, call us at Parenting Your Parents — yes, a little more expensive but you still have peace of mind!

The Big Event – Travel Plans with Aging Parents

This occasion has been in the making for over a year . . . family is coming together and it’s a happy, happy occasion. The entire time your parents have been part of the plans . . . where they will sit, what they will wear . . . And now, it’s a month away and Mom is unable to travel because of her dementia and Dad a little weaker from a hospital stay. Often the kids make the decision — they cannot come. But wait, why not??

Again, we as the children have to ask the question, is it because we don’t want to be bothered or is it because Dad simply cannot handle the travel? Our company says: ask Dad! If he says yes, here are a few suggestions:

You want to avoid having your parent travel alone. We say, hire a traveling babysitter. Depending on your parents health, the person can be hired for both or one.

Why a babysitter? First, the airport mania is overwhelming. There are wheelchairs available but someone must supervise the attendant. I’ve seen seniors left by themselves while the attendant goes to pick up more passengers to fill up a terminal bus. That is not how my parent is going to be treated and nor should yours.

Secondly, the airplane ride. Will they need help getting to the restroom? Are they in an aisle seat where it’s easy to get up and down? What about getting those headphones in the ears so the show can be watched?

Thirdly, landing. Yes, the airline will have the wheelchair waiting but it’s a strange airport with all the chaos of any large meeting space. The babysitter adds calm to the chaos and supervision to the wheelchair attendants.

Lastly, the party! No one family member wants to go to take Dad to his room and skip the rest of the party. Nor is it fair to have a family member in charge of dinner, getting the elderly to their table . . . etc. Think of how much you’ve already spent on this party. What’s a few more dollars if it means your parents/grandparents can be in the photo? The memories last you a lifetime.

So yes, there are options. The babysitter costs money but helps to prevent resentment. At Parenting Your Parents that’s what we do — make certain that your family event is a family event with minimum trauma.