I’m Worried about my aging parent
The baby boomer generation, often referred to as the “gray tsunami”, is growing in leaps and bounds. The 2020 Census now estimates this generation born after WWII (from 1946 to 1964), is around 73 million people.
What does this mean? Lots of people need lots of services. You may ask several questions, “How can I prepare my aging parent(s) to age safely and gracefully?”; “How can I prepare myself to take care of my aging parent?”; “What’s out there to help me?”.
A goal for some seniors is to stay in their home for as long as possible. This may be a challenge. Safety is the key. How safe is my aging parent(s) in their home? What if they trip over that throw rug in the kitchen? What if they forget to lock the door or turn off the stove? What if their eyesight is failing, but they need to drive to pick up the groceries? The “what ifs” can make your head snip and give you heartburn.
There are ways to reduce the worry, although the worrying will never go away. Plan ahead. Plan as soon as you possible can. Talk about it. It may feel weird to talk about sickness or death, but it’s better to have your parents’ plans worked out.
This may involve getting a living will, also known as advance directives (https://livingwillforms.org/pa/). The living will is a form that is kept on file at the doctor’s office and or hospital system just in case something happens where important life decisions need to be made. Do you want life saving measures, like CPR, blood transfusions or a feeding tube? Do you want the doctor to give antibiotics if you have an infection or do you want to be place on a machine that breathes for you? These are all important questions for anyone at any age. Most doctors’ offices provide an advance directives form. Just ask for one at your next appointment. It doesn’t have to be notarized and can be kept in the glove compartment of your car or be filed with your medical chart. You can give a copy to your emergency contact too. I remember at age 16, there was a big push to have a living will on file at my primary care physician’s practice. I awkwardly filled mine out and not much has changed all these years later.
Another step would be to get power of attorney (POA). There are two types: medical and fiduciary (financial). Some of the words may be confusing, but the person for whom the POA is for is called the “Principal.” The “Principal” chooses someone to act on their behalf called the “Agent.” The “Agent” named would be able to make important medical and financial decisions if the “Principal” is not able to anymore. They may become seriously ill, permanently unconscious, suffer brain damage or be in a coma. The “Agent” would be able to follow the “Principal’s” wishes written in their POA paperwork and living will. It’s important to get POAs notarized as they are legal documents. There are free templates online. You may have to sign up for a free trial to access them, but you can cancel anytime. If you need more help, investing in an ElderCare lawyer is a great option. This type of lawyer specializes in creating powers of attorney, last wills and testaments, and even guardianship (which is different from POA). There are free legal aid organizations for low-income, vulnerable adults in most counties in PA. https://www.palawhelp.org/.
How can I find out what is out there for me?
There are a ton of resources out there for folks. You just need to know where to look.
Centers for Independent Living (CILs)
There are 17 CILs in PA. https://pasilc.org/independent-living/centers-independent-living/ promotes these centers. CILs provide information and referrals, independent living skills training, individual and systems advocacy and peer counseling. CILs also offer transition assistance from a nursing home to community-based homes and transition assistance from high school to life after high school.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAA)
Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging supports the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). AAAs work to ensure that older adults across PA have access to supports that help them age well. There are 52 local AAAs that cover the 67 counties of PA. Local an AAA here https://www.aging.pa.gov/local-resources/Pages/AAA.aspx
Some aging services include caregiver support, employment, health and wellness, help at home, housing, Medicare counseling, legal assistance, meals (on wheels), ombudsman services, PACE-prescription assistance, transportation and adult protective services.
County Assistance Offices (CAO)
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services support the County Assistance Offices in PA. Visit https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Assistance/Pages/CAO-Contact.aspx to local the office near you. Caseworkers are available to help and answer your questions over the phone. Services include: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, food stamps or EBT), Cash Assistance (TANF), medical assistance, home heating assistance (LIHEAP) and long-term living services to name a few.
Sometimes in order to stay home and age gracefully, home modifications are needed. This can include a stair glide or stair lift, grab bars for the shower, railing reinforcements and other changes to the home. Every county is different. It’s best to contact your local AAA and CAO to find out what agencies and services are available.
Some CILs have Used Equipment Programs that provide gently used durable medial equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, commodes, etc.) and assistive technology (anything that makes living independently easier). Durable medical equipment and assistance technology can come with a hefty price tag. The used equipment has been donated and sanitized for the next person who needs it. Contact your local CIL to find out more about the partners in your area.
Adult Day Centers
If you are trying to care for your aging parent and work at the same, an adult day program may be a lifesaver. Day programs offer a safe (locked), supervised environment for seniors that may need a little more help during the day. These centers provide nursing services, meals, emergency care and recreational activities to keep your loved one busy. Some offer physical, occupational, speech, music, dance and or art therapies as well. This is a community-based alternative to long-term care placement. Visit https://www.aging.pa.gov/local-resources/Pages/Adult-Day-Center.aspx to find center near you. Most centers are open early in the morning and some offer after hours care. It’s always a good idea to check out the center. Some centers make appointments for tours, but I found that dropping in is the best way to see what really goes on. Observe the lighting, smells, staff interactions and activities that are happening. Some centers offer a free trial too. This would be a 4-hour visit, usually over the lunch period for your loved one to observe the staff and participate in the daily activities. There are many ways to pay for this service thru Medicare/Medicaid (waiver or options), health insurance, grants and out of pocket. Some centers provide transportation and outings to restaurants and stores. My favorite trip when I ran an adult day program was to the ice cream parlor!
Please note: The author is not an expert. This information was compiled after 20 years of working with seniors in long term care and congregate settings. No suggestions or endorsements implied.
“2020 Census Will Help Policymakers Prepare for the Incoming Wave of Aging Boomers” https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/12/by-2030-all-baby-boomers-will-be-age-65-or-older.html#:~:text=The%202020%20Census%20will%20provide,on%20America’s%20population%20age%20structure.%E2%80%9D&text=Born%20after%20World%20War%20II,will%20turn%2074%20next%20year.
“Free Pennsylvania Living Will Forms|Advance Health Care Directive” https://livingwillforms.org/pa/.