There’s no getting around it. Age creeps up on us all. Even if advanced care seems a distant personal consideration, it might not be for the elders in your life. Fortunately, there are plenty of local agencies and advisers with the know-how to make sense of all the options.
Some of the most common concerns seniors face is understanding what their health providers are telling them, according to board-certified patient advocate and certified senior adviser Cindy Johnson. “I deal frequently with care coordination, provider communication, making sure that the senior understands the treatments that are being prescribed, medications that are being prescribed, and that the families understand what those treatments and medications are,” she says.
As founder and CEO of The Patient Advocate Agency, Johnson believes people don’t ask enough questions and part of her role is to guide them. Questions such as: What other options do I have? Do I have to take this medication or is there something else or another treatment I can explore? “Patients need to make sure one health care provider is communicating with another as well,” she cautions. “In today’s world, we think everything goes through a central electronic patient portal. It isn’t always the case and you end up with repeat tests or medications that should not be combined.”
Signs that advancing years are taking a toll become evident in a myriad of ways, according to Michele McGregor, owner of Caring Transitions Desert Cities and a certified relocation transition specialist. “We look at things from a function standpoint,” she explains, "and work with other partners who care for seniors or anyone at any age and stage who has impaired function either cognitively or physically."
Changes in personal hygiene, housekeeping, or food preparation might be a tip-off. Stacks of unpaid bills or late notices could be another. Perhaps an individual repeats themselves, seems confused, is highly emotional or exhibits unusual paranoia. Excessive shopping through TV or online outlets is a red flag. Often, seniors become extremely isolated due to loss of a spouse or their own physical mobility limitations. Sometimes trip and fall hazards lie in wait around the home in the form of steep stairs or loose carpeting not to mention many other safety concerns.
Once it becomes evident some form of advanced care is needed, an organization such as Senior Living Alternatives, LLC in Palm Desert can paint a clearer picture of potential options. Assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, and in-home care arrangements are some of the more common solutions. “I steer people in the right direction,” says owner Mary Zimmerman. "I put them in touch with places that I know are ethical and have good licensing records."
Working with a local agency is preferable to simply searching the internet and ending up in the hands of a large national company. Having familiarity with the intended geographical area is reassuring to seniors and/or their families who seek guidance, perhaps even more so if the latter is coordinating efforts from a distant locale. Perhaps most significantly, all aspects of advance care planning warrants seeking out people who are trained and certified. “They should have a code of conduct and a governing body at the very least,” McGregor advises. “Make sure they show you all of their credentials and licensures as proof before proceeding.”
Another huge piece of the advanced care puzzle is financing. Long-term care insurance is an option although it does require advance planning. “There are some new long term care products on the market that are very unique,” counsels Janice Gough, president of Gough Insurance and Financial Services in Palm Springs. “Rates on these plans are going up tremendously. It could even make sense to open a business, set up a Health Savings Account (HSA) and defer your own money into that account rather than pay $800 a month in premiums. That could only be done if one was healthy.”
In the absence of long-term care insurance, a well-versed patient care advocate should be able to walk seniors and their families through the ins and outs of Medicare and its billing system. “Seniors need to know what’s covered, what’s not covered and how to sort through it all,” said Johnson. In the event of after-care following hip surgery, for example, a patient care advocate can determine what is needed as well as coordinate it all. “We can also make sure it is services provided by your insurance company so that you can avoid a lot of out-of-pocket costs.”
Advanced care warrants advance preparation, no doubt about it.