I left the Adirondacks somewhat abruptly last week, forsaking the loons for the lunacy of eldercare in America. Mom just turned 90 — a remarkable achievement, but one that comes with certain inevitable challenges. Coming up with the right solutions is a case study in the bewildering, infuriating and largely inadequate patchwork of services, rules, costs and gaps in the “system” that supposedly cares for America’s elder citizens.
Poll any room full of baby boomers and I’ll bet that 80% or more are dealing with parent care issues. Most of my friends and acquaintances have at least one parent needing some kind of care. We commiserate, share tips, but largely cope privately with the idiosyncratic demands of each situation. Websites and organizations offering “free” advice are numerous, but the standard directions — talk to mom and dad well in advance, respect their rights, know your insurance rules, take away the keys, etc. — fall short of real help.
Spend a few hours reading the fine print of the Medicare booklet, or trying to understand prescription drug coverage options, or calling senior living facilities to inquire about payment options, and you begin to realize that the “system” is rife with doublespeak, dead-ends, false promises and head-splitting rules that even reasonably smart people have a hard time understanding. What happens to all of those older people — the majority of whom are single women — who don’t have well-educated children trying to help them understand all of that stuff that comes in the mail or that gets said to them by well-meaning healthcare/eldercare professionals who have so many rules?
There’s the rub: there are many great professionals who provide health and wellness services for seniors, but in this era where law and policy trumps common sense, they often must speak in legalese and with much reference to Medicare rules.
I’ve been at this for a few years, actually, and feel dumb and dumber quite often when trying to figure out the best next steps. Here are a few things I do know, however, and I invite readers to offer comments with your tips and insights on eldercare as well….
1. Independence is key — the “system” is designed to create a great deal of dependence, whereas what’s really needed are more professionals who are trained in helping seniors maintain their independence. While there are many great volunteer or private care organizations, public policy is largely focused on healthcare and nursing home care while what many older people really need are companions and intellectual stimulation — activities that would contribute to wellness and take the burden off the healthcare system.
2. Be ready to pay for quality care — forget about expecting Medicare or even private health insurance supplementals to be adequate. The rules run against quality care for the condition of aging, absent a classified medical condition for which the doctor can prescribe a certain kind of care. It’s infuriating to learn that, in spite of all the years of paying for private health insurance, certain kinds of help are not covered in the crunch and much is ‘extra.’ Which leads to….
3. Boomers: get long-term care insurance for yourselves! Given the current mess with Social Security and Medicare, the future of publicly-funded retirement security looks grim. Start planning now! The next generations are already mad enough at the Boomers, d’ya think they’ll be there for us? Start looking into improving your insurance package NOW.
Let me know your thoughts about eldercare in America….