Why it’s important to think about eldercare now, not later
What is eldercare?
Simply put, “eldercare” or “elder medical care” means providing services, supplies and equipment to support the needs of seniors as they age and encounter serious medical issues. Eldercare measures can span a full continuum, from simple assistance with grocery shopping, housecleaning and transportation to full-service residential care.
Starting a dialogue early about how and where your loved ones want to live as they age can help them to maintain their independence as long as possible. Unfortunately, many families don’t broach the subject until a health crisis occurs.
“Advance planning doesn’t happen nearly often enough, as evidenced by people who wind up in the hospital having to make urgent decisions about what to do,” said Cathy Hamel, Greater Baltimore Medical Center vice president of continuing care services and president of Gilchrist. “Pre-planning gives you more autonomy by letting your family know what your wishes are ahead of time. There’s less anxiety surrounding decision-making because they know what you want.”
Time to talk about it
Frequent falls, forgetfulness, driving issues and difficulty performing daily tasks can all indicate a decline in your loved one’s mental or physical health. Hamel advises reaching out to seek information as soon as questions arise, even before symptoms emerge.
“Getting older and dealing with serious illness is never easy, but it’s something everyone has to face at some point,” she explained.
Starting the conversation can be uncomfortable, but it opens the door to gathering ideas that can help families learn their options and make the best choices for their loved ones. Many are surprised at the scope of support and services that are available.
What to put in place
There are several directives and documents everyone should have.
“The most important thing is to designate a healthcare [decision maker] who, in the absence of your ability to advocate for yourself, knows what you want and can make decisions for you,” Hamel said.
Other tools to consider include a power of attorney, a living will, a HIPAA release (which allows doctors to release medical info), Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment and Do Not Resuscitate forms. These are accessible online, through elder law attorneys, and in doctors’ offices, hospitals and nursing homes.
Transitioning to end-of-life care
For many, discussing eldercare measures before they’re needed can help make the transition into hospice easier if and when that time arrives.
“If a cure is unlikely, it’s important to talk about how your disease might progress and how you would like your care to proceed,” Hamel said. “As a culture, we’re just not trained to talk about death and dying very well, but the notion that it all has to be sad and depressing isn’t true. Putting plans in place can help you live the fullest life possible in the time you have.”