Friday, August 10, 2012

The Assisted Living Community's Role as Advocate

I am always saddened by the turmoil that often affects families who are struggling to solve the unexpected problems that surface when caring for an aging parent.  Searching for an affordable or practical solution can be emotionally and physically overwhelming.  At present, there is no easy to follow recipe or a color-coded set of instructions, and those looking for answers are “shooting from the hip” while juggling the thousands of other things they are expected to handle in their daily lives.

Perhaps I am prejudiced, but I regard most assisted living communities as, not only providers of room and board for seniors who cannot function independently, but as resources for valuable information.  It is universal that those who work in the industry are committed to finding a safe place for prospective clients even if it means recommending a competitor down the road.  Every situation is different, and those who represent the multitude of communities, agree it is important that each individual is placed in the appropriate setting.

Recently Susan, a friend of a friend, asked me for advice. She sounded quite frantic when she related her father’s current situation, and I listened intently while she described the unusual circumstances.  Susan’s Dad was 81. He was undergoing chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer.  He lived in Denver, Colorado, and was currently married to a women 17 years his junior.  Still employed, his wife was busy pursuing her career in Richmond, Virginia, while he fought to survive his cancer in Denver.  When the anticipated side effects of the chemo infusions began to sap his strength and cognitive ability, his wife seemed unwilling to return to support him.  Somewhat incontinent, too weak to cook, and unable to shower, he was deteriorating rapidly.  Fortunately for him, he had two daughters who immediately flew to Denver to respond to his call for help, but unfortunately for them, they no idea what to do or where to turn once they got there.

I assured her I would make some calls to see how I could help.

I knew instinctively that Susan’s father would be suitable for respite in an assisted living community.   Someone who needs assistance for a week or two, or even three, may move into a fully furnished room or apartment to receive the same care and support as a long term resident.  A daily rate is charged instead of a monthly one.  This is referred to as a respite stay. ** I was confident that Susan’s father would benefit from this during his treatments, and he would also be happy knowing he could return home once he regained his strength. 

 As I promised Susan, I called a community in Denver owned and operated by the company from which I recently retired.  I explained Susan’s dilemma to the Director of Marketing.  As I expected, the young man with whom I spoke offered to help.  He contacted my friend that same day.

I heard from Susan later in the week.  She was relieved and grateful.  She was in the process of moving her Dad into an assisted living community for a respite stay close to the hospital where he was receiving his treatments.  While there, he was going to finish his chemotherapy.  Then, Susan and her Dad would reevaluate his options and agree on the next step.  He may well elect to remain in his new community.

I must note that Susan’s dad did not move into the community associated with my former company.   It was too far from the hospital where he was being treated.  Instead, the resourceful Director of Marketing solicited a competitor in a more favorable location. It is the goal of the company to ensure that each person is “safely somewhere,” and I applaud the Director of Marketing for fulfilling that obligation.  

I am convinced that networking is the key to finding viable solutions for adult children.  Senior agencies that serve as advocates, the Department of Elder Affairs, hospital social workers, or primary doctors should and could be resources for information.  In the meantime, I urge those with questions to contact their neighborhood Assisted Living Community.  If they cannot help, I’ll bet that they know someone who can.

***Different communities offer different options for respite regarding minimum length of stay.  Some may even offer a credit toward a month’s rent if someone converts to become a permanent resident.  Often families will take advantage of respite while they are on holiday.   The vacationing caretaker can enjoy peace of mind when Mom or Dad is too frail to travel.  In addition, respite also opens the door to those who hesitate to relocate to an assisted living environment.  Burdened with the memories of placing their own parent in a nursing home, current seniors are unfamiliar with the amenities and congenial atmosphere apparent in the majority of assisted living communities.   After a short stay interacting with others who share the same infirmities, a person will often realize that being social and participating in creative activities is better than living in an empty house, sitting alone watching TV, and seeing no one except the friendly person who comes to deliver meals on wheels.