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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.

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One of my current clients is a former medical professional who has decided to donate her body to science upon her death. She therefore enrolled as a member of a local anatomical gift association. As her Power of Attorney for Health Care, I was assigned the task of pre-arranging for the disposition of her body. My client’s enrollment card stated that arrangements needed to be made in advance with a funeral director to transport the body to the location of the anatomical gift association when the time comes.

Upon making a telephone call to a local funeral home to get a price for transportation of the body, I was shocked to be quoted a price for more than $1,600, along with a $350 cremation fee. Since the quote sounded high, I called the anatomical gift association to be certain that I understood all of the stipulations. When I had a discussion with the association’s representative, I was informed that every funeral home has the right to charge differently for its services. I was also informed that if the anatomical association accepts the body, then cremation of the remains is free. If the body is not accepted, i.e., is diseased or in unacceptable condition, the association would charge $370 for the cremation of the remains. The association’s representative gave me the name of two other funeral homes and recommended that I get quotes from them.

When I called the second funeral home, I was informed that the cost to transport the remains would be $1,150, with a $350 cremation fee. Although the price was better, the funeral director’s demeanor was so unfeeling that I wrote him off immediately. The second funeral director quoted me a fee of $850, and there was no cremation fee whether the anatomical society accepted the body or not. The deal sounded a little too good, so it made me wary. Last, I contacted the funeral director who handled by late husband’s services, because he was a very easy going man who made my life easier during a very difficult time. His price was $650, plus a $350 fee for cremation if the body was rejected. While his transportation quote was even lower than $850, I knew that I need not be wary based on my firsthand knowldege of his services and demeanor.

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I was recently hired by a family whose loved one was taking an experimental drug for cancer. The cost of the drug was more than $8,000 a month. Because the drug is experimental, it is not covered by private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. The drug was being paid for by a grant that required re-application every year.

The senior was at risk for falling, had a catheter, and had been admitted to a rehabilitation community covered by Medicare. However, one of the children informed me that finding a community that would accept the loved one (due to the experimental status of the drug) was a challenge. Their first choice in rehabilitation communities declined to offer the senior a bed since the drug wasn’t covered by Medicare. The administration at the community did not want to incur any liability for absorbing the cost of the drug. The second choice in rehab. communities admitted the senior, but required the children to purchase the drug and bring it to the home for administration to the senior.

When the senior’s Medicare days were exhausted, it was time for me to find a permanent home for him. While a family member told me that it was probable that the grant would be re-issued to cover the drug for another year, I had to bear in mind that at some point the grant may stop paying for the prescription. Thankfully, this senior had enough money to pay for long term care, and the prescription for several years, before applying for Medicaid. However, all the communities that I approached for his placement required that the children would still have to pay for and deliver the prescription. Since the senior had progressed during rehabilitation, I was able to secure placement in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that offered high level, assisted living that was lower in cost than a nursing home, but could address issues with the catheter via their medical in-home care services. The senior eventually would be able to apply for Medicaid and transfer to the CCRC nursing home on the same property. However, should the senior convert to Medicaid status, the experimental drug will not be covered.