Do you have a loved one – a spouse, parent, or other close friend or relative – living in a long-term care facility? Whether they live in a nursing home, assisted living facility, rehabilitation ward or any other form of long-term senior housing, you probably worry about them getting the type of care they need and deserve. You want to be their advocate, in every sense of the word, but you don’t always know how best to do it. If that describes you, then we think this helpful article just published on the website NextAvenue will give you some valuable insight.
The article, written by elder care expert and author Melanie Carroll, is called “7 Ways to Advocate for a Loved One in Long Term-Care.” Carroll writes, “Advocating for your loved one in a long-term care environment can feel like navigating a maze, especially if you don’t live close by.” She goes on to suggest ways to approach some of the most common issues that residents of long-term care facilities – and their families – can face.
Before we discuss the seven ways for you to be a better, more effective advocate for a loved one, we here at AgingOptions want to suggest a powerful resource for you called Better Care Management (you’ll find their website here). Better Care Management, affiliated with AgingOptions, helps families handle the complexities associated with aging, including evaluating and recommending appropriate housing to meet your loved one’s medical, financial and social needs. Aging, as we like to say, is a family affair, and Better Care Management is the best resource your family can find to guide you through that housing maze we referred to earlier. If you contact AgingOptions, we’ll gladly put you in touch with the trusted pros at Better Care Management. It will definitely make your role as advocate easier.
Back to the NextAvenue article. If any of these questions apply to your situation, author Melanie Carroll shares some helpful tips and insights on how to advocate effectively.
- “Your loved one wants to move out of assisted living or the nursing home.” As Carroll writes, “Moving into an older adult community is a major adjustment. It’s not uncommon for those who recently moved to want to move out as soon as possible.” One suggestion is to convince your loved one to give the new residence three months’ time – chances are they’ll adjust within that time period, especially if you talk with staff about making your mom or dad feel at home. Helping your loved one meet at least one new friend can also make a huge difference.
- “You don’t live nearby and can’t visit your loved one as often as you wish. How do you advocate from afar?” If another friend or relative can be your eyes and ears, that might be a good solution – but if not, you may need to hire the services of an elder care manager, geriatric case worker, nurse or social worker. This task of finding a care manager is another area where Better Care Management can help you.
- “Things seem to be going OK, but you sometimes wonder about how much care your loved one is actually receiving. How can you get a better sense of what’s really going on?” One key, says NextAvenue, is to visit often and to vary your visitation schedule. If you always arrive at, say 5pm, you’ll see the same staff and the same routine. Mix it up. Above all, writes Carroll, “If you notice a troubling pattern or problem, say something. Staff knows which residents don’t have visitors or advocates, and sad as that is, those elders can fall through the cracks.” It’s helpful to build relationships with staff and stay positive. “Think of it as a team effort. You’re all on the same team, until someone drops the ball.”
- “What if my loved one has dementia and may not be able to articulate what’s going on?” This is another area where visiting frequently and at varied times is important, and it’s also good to make sure the staff knows about your loved one’s life story and personal background. As an example, the NextAvenue article refers to one man in memory care who had served as a town mayor in his younger days. “Occasionally, he would get agitated or upset; the staff learned that if they addressed him as Mr. Mayor, his disposition would visibly change. He assumed a calmer, professional demeanor of a mayor, and everyone avoided any trouble due to his agitation.” All it took was a caring loved one and a helpful staff.
- “I’ve been talking with other residents’ family members. We see common problems that don’t seem to be improving, although staff says they will fix them. What can we do?” You may need to get together with other family members and organize a family council, something that federal law allows you to do. “Facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid payments must provide a meeting space, cooperate with council activities, and respond to group concerns,” writes NextAvenue’s Some states extend that same right to families of residents living in assisted living facilities.
- “What can I do about my difficult family member? I love her but know she is challenging and mean to staff.” There’s no simple answer to this issue, but the best course of action is to get the staff on your side and make sure they know your concerns. Chances are they have encountered difficult patients before. Carroll suggests “writing thank-you notes to staff who do a good job, sending letters to supervisors praising staff or sending baskets or trays of cookies.” Let the staff know that you empathize.
- “What do I do if I believe there is abuse or neglect going on? Whom do I contact?” As much as we want to avoid confrontation, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and the NextAvenue article contains some valuable links that can help you. One is the long-term care ombudsman program that advocates in all 50 states for the rights of nursing home residents (you’ll find Washington State contacts here). Another link is to the National Center on Elder Abuse. In an extreme case, if you believe there has been abuse, you may need to contact local law enforcement.
This discussion of these issues surrounding the quality of housing for your loved one reminds us that two of the most important facets of retirement planning are housing issues and family issues. But there’s more to truly effective retirement planning than knowing where you’re going to live. You also need a solid financial plan, a robust legal strategy, and a plan that covers all your medical needs. Does this mean you need to speak with five different planners and merely hope that everything works out when you retire? Definitely not. What you need is an AgingOptions LifePlan, in which medical, financial, legal, housing and family elements all work together seamlessly. The result is a safe, secure and fruitful retirement in which your assets will be protected and you’ll be able to avoid burdening those you love.
Find out more about this revolution in retirement planning by joining Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll have a wide range of dates, times and locations to choose from, so click here for details and online registration, or call us. Don’t try to go it alone and get caught in the pitfalls of an inadequate plan. Join us soon and discover the power of a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)