Preparing to Care for your Aging Family Members

Every day, nonsense walks into my office. I only classify it that way by virtue of the sheer variety of challenging situations people find themselves in, most of which could have been avoided had just a little more caution been exercised, had just a little more sense been applied. You can probably not imagine a scenario that I have not seen or encountered in some fashion. Just in the last few weeks, I have come across families and individuals dealing with all manner of unenviable scenarios:

  • A young adult with Down syndrome, living with her mom and dad, with no rights to make medical decisions for her and no plan in place for her care after they are gone.
  • A family that I first talked to a year ago when dad was in a nursing home. The family could not cope with their guilt so decided to bring him home, to be cared for by his 80-year old wife. You can guess how that went. Now dad is back in the nursing home and mom is ill and the family is trying to figureout how to pay the $10,000 per month for care.
  • The family that has been told by the hospital not to bring dad back (3 times in the ER in one month) or they were going to call adult protective services. The other children don’t want to get involved. Guess what will happen.
  • The adult children, living in another state, who recently discovered not only that their aging single mom has been receiving care for nearly a year, but that her newest caretaker has been stealing money from her and neglecting to provide the agreed-upon care.
  • The young family in which one spouse had a heart attack and now likely has permanent brain damage. No documents in place. No right to make decisions. Will be forced to do a conservatorship.
  • An individual suffering from ALS, whose healthy spouse and children simply refuse to face the facts of what will happen. Hope that their loved one will get better seems to be their plan.
  • The family with mom in a nursing home, 100 miles from home, because that is where the hospital placed her.
  • The family whose mother, who owns separate property, is in a nursing home yet her husband and children have no control over that property. Medi-Cal will count her property and recover against it after she dies. They will have to go to court or they will pay over $10,000 per month for her nursing home.
  • Parent in nursing home. Someone helped them apply for Medi-Cal but they applied for the wrong program and Medi-Cal coverage was denied. This family had to pay approximately $30,000 for the parent’s care and now have their future to worry about.

I can go on if you like. These are all cases I’ve come across just in the last few weeks. If I went back over just the last year, let alone 25 years, I could fill volumes with examples of difficult but avoidable situations, well-meaning but ill-prepared families victimized not only by the opportunistic and rapidly-growing Elder Care Industry, and not only by the State of California, but by their own ignorance and inaction.

The tragedy is that in most cases none of this had to happen. In each case, it all happened because the assumption was made that it couldn’t happen. Or wouldn’t.

Half the people I see in nursing homes could have postponed their entry. Most could have stayed home longer.  For many, a “softer” (and cheaper) level of care would have sufficed. But they failed to make any kind of preparations, they neglected to address the inevitabilities inherent to their respective situations, and so ended up spending tens of thousands needlessly, adding stress and conflict to an already difficult reality.

Many of you or your family reading this will become one of these stories. The reason is simple; belief that it will not happen in your family.  Call it hope or denial or whatever you want, but the simple fact is that failure to prepare is usually disastrous and is ALWAYS more expensive.

All of the families mentioned above said exactly the same thing when they came to see me: “We never thought this would happen to us” and “we never thought it would cost us this much money”. Again, none of it had to happen.

Please, make a difference in your life and that of your family today. Parents, stop saying “I don’t want to be a burden on my children”. Children, stop saying “I feel uncomfortable talking to my parents about this stuff”.  Talk to one another.  Address these difficult and important issues in a meaningful way so that you can all move on with your lives comfortable in the knowledge that a plan is in place and your family’s risk is minimal.

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