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Options available for care of aging parents

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

As baby boomers reach retirement age and beyond, planning for long-term care becomes more and more important, according to experts in care for the aging.

In observance of National Family Caregivers Month this month, Atlanta-based Home Instead Senior Care recently offered a web conference to discuss the options available to adult children, and the pros and cons of each choice.

The presentation, "The Best Care for Your Parents: Senior Care Solutions and Potential Pitfalls," was hosted by Paul Hogan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Home Instead Senior Care, and Suzanne Mintz, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit National Family Caregivers Association.

The wishes of aging parents should be taken into consideration when choosing long-term care, said Stephania Ward, community relations director for Dogwood Forest of Eagle's Landing, an assisted living community in Stockbridge.

"Most families aren't aware of their loved one's wishes until they are forced to make a decision on their behalf, and in a lot of situations, they have never sat down as a family and discussed what the wishes are," Ward said.

Opening the lines of communication between adult siblings on caring for elderly parents is important, as is direct communication with aging parents on their long-term care wishes, said Dan Wieberg, public relations manager for Home Instead.

"What we hate to see is people react, as opposed to being proactive," Wieberg said.

Cost is another factor to weigh, said Ward.

"Adult day services, home care, and independent and assisted living are typically private pay, with the only funds available for reimbursement being from a private, long-term care policy or veterans benefits, if applicable," Ward added. "With a skilled nursing facility, you may qualify for your 100 days of skilled care that Medicare will cover, and then if you're considering permanent placement in a nursing facility, it will typically be Medicaid or Veterans Administration-approved facilities."

Other options available for the care of aging parents include adult care centers, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and hospice care, stated Hogan.

But most aging parents are cared for at home, said Mintz.

"The majority of care provided to people who need it, 80 percent, is provided by family members," she said. "The [belief] that most people needing care are in nursing homes is a myth."

Many seniors want to continue living in their own home, continued Mintz, but accommodating that wish can take its toll on family members.

"The stress is very high among family caregivers," she added. "It's twice as high for adult children, and six times as high for spouses."

On a national level, baby boomers born in the 1950s are reaching retirement age, Wieberg said, and their adult children are caught in the "sandwich generation," with young children and aging parents.

"In January 2011, the first baby boomer turns 65, and from that day forward, [the number of people turning 65 years old] is literally 8,000 a day," he continued.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, Wieberg encourages adult children to monitor the health and well-being of their parents to determine if they are having trouble caring for themselves.

Telltale signs include when a usually tidy house suddenly becomes messy, he said, and constantly finding spoiled food in the refrigerator.

"Those are little things to look for to see if mom needs a little help," said Wieberg.

The decision to move an elderly parent to a long-term care facility is never easy, he said, and the entire family should discuss the options before action is taken.

"It's tough," said Wieberg. "That's why you have to start having those conversations. So much friction can occur if you're guessing what mom wants."