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If Your Loved One is Bilingual, Keep this in Mind

During the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease, it is common for individuals who are bilingual to revert to speaking and understanding only their original, native language. An event such as this can present challenges as described in the following Real Life Story.

Real Life Story

My clients are the daughters of a seventy-two year old woman with the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The daughters live in Chicago, another U.S. city, and a city overseas. Their mother is a native Spaniard who is totally ambulatory and incontinent.

Their mom had been fluent in both Spanish and English. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a number of years ago. Last year, she stopped speaking English. She now speaks only Spanish, if she speaks at all, and sits in a chair chuckling.

She was forced to move overseas to live with one daughter for several years. She was brought back by another daughter to Chicago where she was placed in a luxury independent living community with two part-time caregivers. All three of the daughters bore the expenses for a year and a half and eventually realized they couldn’t afford it. Their mom was beginning to wander about the 200 unit building. She was also beginning to slap the non-Spanish speaking caregiver out of frustration for not being understood.

My clients tried to move their mother to another state and city where the third daughter lives. The children’s last resort was Medicaid, the government program designed to cover long-term care expenses for people with limited funds. However, the Medicaid-friendly communities had waiting lists that were in excess of two years.

By the time I was hired, one of the daughters applied for Medicaid in Illinois and had a number assigned to her case. This was a Godsend as many of the nursing homes don’t like to accept public aid until an application is approved. My challenge was to find a community that accepted public aid, allowed the senior to transition from a luxury apartment with dignity, and offered primary caregivers who speak Spanish.

OK, so you might be thinking, “Spanish is a very common language, what’s so hard about that?” I was aware of two communities that specialize in catering to a Hispanic population. One was located in a very bad location and had no bathrooms in the rooms. The other produced horrible inspection results from the Illinois Department of Health, complete with old, dried food on the kitchen equipment. Therefore, I took her on tours of three other communities that met the senior’s needs.

In the end, I placed her in a small community that has all private rooms and accepted her Medicaid status. The Director of Nursing, the CNA on the floor, and the housekeeper all speak Spanish. This is in contrast to facilities that might advertise “bilingual staff” but in reality, have only 1 or 2 bilingual speakers, and NOT in positions of direct client support or care. There appears to be very little turnover in the staff, many of whom have been there for 30 years.

The daughter acted on my advice with reservation. The location was a bit farther than she wanted to travel. In denial, the daughter insisted the other residents in wheel chairs were so much more “out of it!” In a heart to heart talk, I told her that the additional miles were worth traveling due to the level of care that was delivered, the luxury of being able to have a private room in Medicaid status, and a staff that was fluent in Spanish. The move took place and things have gone smoothly.

Here’s the moral of the story. Despite the fact that Spanish is a common language, it’s not all that easy to find caregivers at a community who are fluent in Spanish, AND fulfill all the other criteria you may need and desire. But, I’ve done it in the past with requests for dialects of Hindi and Asian, Italian, German, Greek and Polish. Got a language that’s a challenge? I can help you and your loved one too!

Contact Andrea Donovan if you are interested in finding a facility that offers the Medicaid Supportive Living Program.

andrea-donovan100Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors
361 Nuttall Road Riverside, IL 60546 708-442-7174 708-415-2934 (cell)