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Only two things in my life have terrified me. The first was laying my husband of 33 years to rest after watching him suffer dreadfully from cancer of the appendix. I can at least take some comfort in the fact that I know he is at peace. The second thing was having to place my mother in a long-term care community.

You might be surprised and be asking yourself, “Why was she terrified? She does that sort of work as a beloved Calling and for a living!” My reply to such a reasonable question is this: As a highly trained and experienced professional, I have absolutely no problem dealing with my clients’ parents or loved ones. But when it comes to one’s own mother, the process takes on an added dimension that is – as you can imagine – very personal and emotional.

My mother is 95 years old and has lived on her own up until this point. Our family was fortunate enough that one of my siblings took on the role of companion and “go to” person for her. But my mother suffers from a rare blood disorder, severe arthritis, and heart issues, to name but a few. She has been prescribed 17 different medications, none of which she was taking correctly. She was not eating properly and had fallen on several occasions. She would only accept very minimal help with bathing and dressing.

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I want to share a story that may prove helpful to you my readers one day. I serve as the Power of Attorney for Health Care for one of my clients who has severe issues with her memory. She was recently transferred from the assisted living memory care unit of her current community to the skilled nursing section due to failing health. When I went to the nursing home to complete her admission papers, the social worker informed me that there was no completed DNR/POLST form in my client’s file, and I needed to complete one.

In order to accurately describe the form, I am quoting a description from POLST.ORG which reads, “The POLST Paradigm was developed to improve the quality of patient care and reduce medical errors by creating a system that identifies patients’ wishes regarding medical treatment and communicates and respects them by creating portable medical orders. While the POLST Paradigm supports the completion of advance directives, clinical experience and research demonstrate that these advance directives are not sufficient alone to assure that those who suffer from serious illnesses or frailty will have their preferences for treatment honored unless a POLST Form is also completed.”

Although I serve as Power of Attorney for several of my clients, most of them are not nearing the end of life at this point. When I looked at the form (, and admittedly I had seen it before, I was a little overwhelmed. Seeing the form is one thing. Comprehending the reality associated with it is another. I told the social worker that my client’s POA for Health Care clearly stated that she did not want her life prolonged if the “burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits.” I was informed that without the completion of the POLST form, she would be a “CODE 3,” meaning that she would be resuscitated even if the POA form stated otherwise. Hence, the POA form was not sufficient in the absence of a POLST form on file.

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Many of us, including our loved ones, have terrifying memories of visiting Grandma or Grandpa at a nursing home. We have visions of the residents sitting slumped over in wheel chairs, the dismal aesthetics, unpleasant odors, terrible food, a dying roommate and the ever popular bingo game as the daily activity. These sorts of thoughts, whether exaggerated or fully accurate, will deter a loved one from considering a move to a retirement community.

Yesterday’s nursing homes focused on taking care of the sick. In contrast, the CCRCs of today not only seek to offer lovely aesthetics but also seek to maintain a senior’s independence by offering many a la carte services that allow the senior to stay in his/her independent living apartment. For instance, a senior may be independent for all practical purposes, but might feel more psychologically secure if someone stood by while he or she is taking a shower. These types of a la carte services can help delay a premature move to a higher level of care and allow a senior to remain in his/her own apartment for as long as possible. However, if a senior needs more care in the future, a true CCRC will offer assisted living and skilled nursing to address future health care needs without moving. Thus the senior and his or her family will avoid the trauma of a second move and the loss of friendships the senior has cultivated.

From the financial aspect, many CCRCs have shunned the typical rental arrangement and converted to Life Care Contracts, meaning that if a resident is at some point unable to meet the financial obligations of paying his/her monthly fee, the senior’s care will be subsidized by the rest of the residents. In other words, care is guaranteed “for life.” Here is a brief, oversimplified, explanation as to how it works:

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My client whom I will call “Marie” for the purposes of this story, was a 71 year old woman who had serious respiratory issues. Until recently, Marie lived at home with her mother. They had spent their entire lives together. A sudden illness caused Marie’s mother to be hospitalized and subsequently sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation. When it became apparent that my client’s mother was not going to recover, Marie brought her home and arranged for hospice services. There, my client Marie, a 70-something senior, continued to help tend to her mom, who eventually passed away.

As I had been hired by Marie previously, I was recently contacted by her trust officer, and was informed that Marie had been ill. It was requested that I act as her geriatric care manager. I went to the hospital in order to assess her situation. At that point in time, the trust officer knew very little about Marie’s physical condition.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was very surprised at how much Marie had deteriorated. She had been a feisty, quick witted woman. Despite her breathing issues, she had always been a fighter as evidenced by her devotion to her mother. At first, Marie didn’t recognize me because she was taking medications. Then in a matter of a few minutes, she confessed to me that the combination of taking care of her mother and the breathing issues landed her in the hospital, then in a rehab. community for respiratory therapy, then back in the hospital again. She said, “Andrea, I am convinced that taking care of my mother worsened my health. But, I loved her, and I would never change what I did. But, now that she is gone, I really have nothing to live for.” The hospital’s plan was to send Marie home with hospice care. She told me she was impressed with the hospice team that had taken care of her mom, and wanted the same people to take care of her.

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When you have completed the daunting task of choosing the right senior living community for your loved one, your next mission will be to prepare for his/her move. It is very likely that the senior will be moving to an apartment or room that will be much smaller than his/her current living arrangement. Decisions will need to be made as to which items the senior will discard, donate or keep. All of us tend to have difficulty parting with “keepsakes” to which we have emotional attachments; accordingly, it may be a wise decision to utilize the services of a professional organizer when your senior moves.

Sue Becker is a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. She has worked side by side with my senior clients (including those with dementia) to help them with the highly emotional task of sorting through years’ worth of keepsakes and papers and deciding which items to keep.

Keepsakes: Turn Your Muddled Mess into Meaningful Memories

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I remember fifteen years ago when I started as an Admissions and Marketing Director in the senior living industry, my future boss took me on a complete tour of the community. Or so I thought.

The community included independent living, where most of the seniors were well off mentally and ambulated with, at worst, a cane. The next level of care was assisted living, which at the time was an extension of independent living. But, the residents at that level received “standby” assistance with bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring, eating, and walking. At worst, seniors there ambulated with the help of a walker. No wheel chairs were allowed. Last, there was nursing home level, or the dreaded fifth floor that was reserved for residents who could no longer function at the independent living or assisted living level. Most were in wheel chairs and needed total assistance with their activities of daily living. Or, some suffered memory impairment and were at risk for wandering. The fifth floor was equipped with a security code for the elevator and an alarm for those residents who might attempt to leave unattended.

When my boss conducted the tour, he showed me the independent living and the assisted living areas, both of which were places where the residents appeared to be happy. However, after I began working there, I was sent to complete a task on the fifth floor where the residents needed total assistance with everything. Being new to the industry, I was like many of my clients taking a tour of a nursing home for the first time. I was nervous and terrified! I rushed down to my boss’s office and told him that I was exceedingly upset that I was not told that the fifth floor existed. As time went on, I grew to love the residents on the fifth floor. There we were encouraged to take a break from the regular tasks of the day, attend scheduled activities, or just talk.

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If you are considering non-medical home care for your loved one, you should be aware of some changes in this segment of the senior living industry.

When I started in the senior living industry over 15 years ago, things were very simple. “Assisted living” meant nothing more than “stand by,” assistance with activities of daily living. Now, the industry has changed. “Hands on” care is available at the assisted living level, which allows the senior to remain in his/her assisted living apartment so much longer. In the same way, the licensed, non-medical home care agencies have undergone many changes. I have asked Mike O’Brien, owner of Independence-4-Seniors, and Legislative Chairperson, Illinois Chapter of the Home Care Association of America to tell you about them.

Illinois Legislation and Regulatory Changes in Private Duty Homecare

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My clients are a couple ages 78 and 80. The couple’s daughter had called me and tearfully related the story of how her parents were looking at senior living options, most of which would not fill their long-term needs. Like many of my clients, they had lost a significant amount of money in the most recent economic crisis, and they were living in a condominium where they could not afford to stay. The daughter feared that they would run out of money and be forced to move to a Medicaid community in the future. She pleaded with me to call her mother and set up an appointment to talk to them.

When I called, her mother curtly told me that they were still driving, had their faculties, and were able to evaluate the senior living communities on their own. Furthermore, they couldn’t afford services like mine. I assured her that I have lots of flexibility with the way my services are structured, and I could design a consultation that fit their budget. She said “no thanks,” and hung up.

When I relayed the situation to the daughter, she said that she would convince her parents to set up an appointment with me. To this day, I don’t know what the daughter said to her parents, but within a few days, I had an appointment set.

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Many times my stories revolve around the child of a senior who hires me to solve a parent’s senior living problems. The terms of my real life story are a little bit different this time.

My clients were a couple ages 80 and 78, respectively. They lived on the east coast, but grew up in the Chicago metro area. Like many grandparents, they wanted to move back to the Chicago suburbs to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

When I met with this couple, I was pleased to find two very polished, excessively independent individuals. One member was still working in an artistic capacity. They were more than open to sharing their financial realities with me. Their annual income was more than ample, and their net worth was well in excess of $1 million. They also had long-term care insurance.

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Assisted living communities that have a memory care unit are supposed to be adequately staffed with assistants and aides who are educated to deal with the behaviors of dementia residents. The habits of these residents can often be repetitive and endanger the resident if they are not closely watched. Many residents “sundown” in the evening, meaning they may often become more confused and agitated at this time. In my opinion, the caregiver ratio in these sorts of units at night should be no less than 1 aide to 8 residents, when residents with dementia, whether ambulatory or not, can become very agitated and even combative. The “powers that be” at some senior living communities will dispute my ratio, contending that they only need to staff according to long-term care regulations. This month’s real life story will outline the consequences of understaffing.

Real-Life Story

I was recently hired by a client who was forced to place her memory-impaired relative in an assisted living community’s memory unit. The relative had been living in another retirement community that was not equipped to care for residents with memory issues. When the staff at the original community witnessed the relative dragging a bag of laundry up the hallway in the wee hours of the morning, the staff arranged to have her taken to the local hospital’s behavioral unit for evaluation. Apparently, this had not been the first incident of questionable behavior. When the evaluation of the relative was complete, my client was informed that the retirement community could not handle the relative’s behaviors. Therefore, my client had to place the relative in an assisted living community that had a bed available in its specialized memory unit.