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Caring for an Aging Loved One

By: Jim Janicki, Riverside Health Systems

Caring for an aging parent or loved one can be one of life’s most challenging and exhausting experiences. As you strive to manage the day-to-day operations of your own life – including raising your children or helping other family members – and then spend time caring for your aging loved one, you probably won’t find much time left for yourself.

Here are some recommendations for keeping yourself healthy, avoiding burnout and helping your loved one get the care they need.

1.) Make time for yourself. It may sound hypocritical that the first tip in caring for others is to care for yourself, but the truth is if you don’t do it, no one else will. Like parenting, caregiving is a long journey full of ups and downs. You need your energy and your focus, and you must avoid burnout and illness, or you will no longer be an effective caregiver. Then where does that leave your family? They are depending on you, so take time to work out regularly, read a book or enjoy your favorite hobby. Caregiving cannot be a 24/7 job or you’re doomed to fail.

2.) Explore all your options. Realize there are no clear-cut answers for senior care, especially with today’s increased choices for services. Take time to investigate all the possible options available for your loved one. You can search resources for free through your local Agency on Aging and websites like seniornavigator.com and caregiverslibrary.net. For a fee, you can hire a private Geriatric Care Manager (GCM), a social worker who is specially trained in determining a senior’s appropriate service needs. Riverside Health System recently launched a Care Navigation program for those who need answers about senior-related services. This free program is staffed by GCMs who are ready to make referrals across the Peninsula. Call (757) 856-7030 for more information.

Senior living options include:

  • Age 55+ Active Adult Communities, which offer traditional real estate that you purchase, but homes feature less maintenance and more amenities like golf, swimming and clubhouse dining.
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities, where residents move in while they are very independent and move through the continuum of services as their health needs increase. Warwick Forest in Newport News and Patriots Colony at Williamsburg are two such communities.
  • Assisted Living is a level of care for those individuals who simply need some help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, dining and scheduled transportation. With nurses on staff and emergency response systems in place, Assisted Living helps keep residents safe in a supportive setting. Most Assisted Living is private-pay only, averaging about $3,000 per month to start, but some limited government waiver programs do exist.
  • Traditional nursing homes (also called Convalescent Centers) are still favorable options for those who need attentive, 24-hour care from nurses, therapists, doctors and other professionals.
If your loved one qualifies for nursing home care but wants to continue living at home, then consider these options:

  • PACE, a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. A relatively new program in Virginia, PACE meets all medical and social needs of participants, many of whom come to the PACE Center during the day for doctor visits, physical therapy, meals and more. The program is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private pay.
  • Home Care and Private Duty/Custodial Care agencies provide nurses and aides in the home for assistance with everything medication management, therapy and skilled nursing to cooking, cleaning and visiting.
  • While continuing to live at home, your loved one can benefit from increased social contact with others. Scheduling trips to the local senior center or enrolling him or her in an Adult Day Care program can sharpen both physical and mental outlook.
If you are planning to manage most of the caregiving load yourself, you might consider In-Home Technology services to keep your loved one safe at home. Riverside offers three technologies – Lifeline personal emergency response system, Medication Dispensing Service and home telemonitoring of vital signs (weight, pulse, blood pressure, blood-oxygen level, and more). These services help ensure your loved one’s safety and medical status when you can’t be there, and that’s great peace of mind. So regardless of which option you choose, just be sure you’ve considered them all.

3.) Team up with your loved one’s doctor. Most seniors are resistant to follow a retirement plan if their children recommend it, so you may need reinforcements. Talk with your family member’s doctor and explain the situation. Gather advice on how to proceed, and then ask the doctor to help advise your loved one of the importance of this decision. Seniors are far more likely to take the advice of their trusted physician over the advice of their children! 

4.) Complete advanced directives documents. In preparation for a move to a care facility or as your loved one ages at home, you’ll want to cover certain decisions with them, such as designating a Power of Attorney and preparing a Living Will with Advanced Directives should they become incapacitated. You can find the documents at www.vda.virginia.gov/pdfdocs/AdvMedDir.pdf . Consult an Elder Law Attorney if you have questions.

5.) Stay involved. Even after you make a decision on how to provide the best care experience for your loved one, the journey isn’t over. You’ll need to be sure that your loved one is happy and receiving appropriate care. Talk regularly with health professionals about care planning and making sure that your family member is truly benefiting from the service. And most importantly, spend time with you loved one enjoying them as the person you know and love – don’t always be the caregiver or “responsible party” when you’re around. Be the daughter, son, granddaughter, neighbor or friend that you’ve always been.

Following these helpful tips should enable you to more easily manage the difficult task of caregiving for an aging love one.

For further assistance, The Center for Excellence in Aging and Geriatric Health is wonderful resource in Williamsburg that offers physician-led geriatric health screenings, driving evaluations, and clinical research trials. Visit excellenceinaging.org to learn more or call Riverside Care Navigation today at (757) 856-7030.

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TheSavvySeniorOnline.com was created as a resource for folks who are retiring to Williamsburg, VA and surrounding areas on the Virginia Peninsula and in the Historic Triangle.  You can search active adult communities, 55+ communities, age restricted communities, as well as homes for sale with first floor master bedrooms, or homes all one story or level.  We know where the best buys are for creating a maintenance free lifestyle!

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You can reach us at 757-873-2707 in Newport News and 757-645-4106 in Williamsburg.  Just ask for the Liz Moore Senior Team!