When people say “Senior Planning” most of us immediately think of financial planning and investment strategies. When we hear “emergency planning” we often think of inclement weather, evacuation plans or stocking supplies to endure a less than ideal situation. While both strategies are an important part of our lives and vital to helping our parents age, neither address the preparedness that a family will need to help their loved one through an illness or an injury.
We Hoosiers are well seasoned when it comes to preparing a list of “must have” items and stocking our pantries to endure the wrath of Mother Nature, but we’re grossly unprepared when it comes to understanding what will happen if our loved ones become ill or suffer an injury. It is ten times more likely that a senior will become ill or suffer an injury that requires hospitalization and likely some form of post-acute care than to experience a fire or severe weather, and we’re just not prepared.
In the past, a medical condition that required hospitalization was addressed in the hospital and the patient would remain there until they were well enough to return home independently. With the changes in healthcare and the regulations imposed on hospitals, the average length of stay is now much shorter, and patients are requiring alternate forms of care. Traditionally, nursing homes were a place to live when our parents were unable to stay in their own home. Today these facilities focus on rehabilitation & post-acute care. Patients have more frequent stays, averaging 2-3 weeks and are then discharged to their homes with home health care and in home medical equipment. Patients are also discharged home with more progressive conditions, are able to access outpatient services, and are demanding more support from their families. Emergency situations are difficult on a family and that’s no time to start learning about options or the lack thereof. So how can you be prepared? Start by having a discussion.
What does your loved one want and how much do they know about their current care and support options? Preconceived ideas can grossly limit our understanding. Talk to your physician and ask around about the best skilled nursing facilities or home health options. Take a visit and meet with the management team. There are very knowledgeable providers right in your back door. They can answer questions about coverage, services and even provide information on how to prevent hazards in your own home. Be connected with post acute providers in your area, as they are great allies.
What type of insurance or coverage does your loved one have? Obtain copies of the cards. Does the policy cover post-acute care? Who is in-network and what would your co- pay be? Post-acute providers can answer most of these questions over the phone and help to prevent financial surprises. Make a list of emergency contact numbers, current medications and all the physicians & medical providers that your loved one sees. Be sure to keep this updated and keep a copy with you and on your loved one’s fridge. You’d be surprised how often you’ll need this and how many services will need a copy.
Power of Attorney, Living Will, Advanced Directives, Code Status…and the list goes on. This can seem like a foreign language or a taboo topic but these questions are asked at the door of the hospital and someone must advocate for the patient if they cannot speak for themselves. Take 10 minutes and discuss what your loved one would and would not want if they were not able to speak for themselves. Preparing the legal documents ahead of time will allow you to act on their behalf and carry out their wishes.
In an ideal world, we’d relish the idea of discussing these personal matters and could all jump in the car for a fun filled Saturday of touring local care facilities. But the reality is that life is very busy and these discussions are not easy so take a deep breath a tackle one topic at a time. Connect with your local resources and be informed. Hind sight maybe 20/20 but a little preparation will help you and your loved one to see the future with rose colored glasses.
by Rebecca Paulie