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In December 2009, I wrote my Senior Spectrum article on “Eldercare in the Workforce: It’s time!” What is it time for…recognition; just as child care is recognized by parents and most employee benefit programs, as a necessity. Elder caregiving is just as important. However, it is denied or not dealt with, especially in business. Families do not deal with it either, until the crises hits us over the head.

Recently, I had the misfortune to deal with this in my own family. A mentor one time mentioned to me that since she was a professional in the aging and health care field that it was worse when it came to dealing with her own family…she knew too much that could go wrong. This kept running through my mind during the whole experience I had with my family.

My mother developed heart problems and needed help. First it was the acute hospitalization. What an experience. If you haven’t been in an acute hospital in a while, be prepared. Most of the staff are huddled around the nursing station working online or charting. When they do visit the patients, it usually is centered on the technology and not the person. Whatever happened to the nursing staff massaging or even touching the patient? They were running from one crisis to another, with very little time with the patient. One of the elder patients down the hall was screaming “I am here. I am here.” A little disturbing for everyone, but I was feeling it for my mom.

My mother’s roommate in the hospital had no visitors while I was there. I notice, since I was basically living with her during my mother’s stay in the acute bed that there was a sign on the wall above her bed that said “help with feeding”. She had a neurological problem and it was hard for her to hold the silverware. But there was no one there to help, meal after meal. Excuse me, where is the care in our “healthcare”? Don’t get me wrong, the nursing staff and docs were all very nice, competent, and compassionate, but just to damn busy. Please note here, as I have also mentioned in previous articles, that if you need to go into the hospital, have an advocate. Even though I have said this before, it sure hit me over the head in the experience with my mother.

My mother was operated on immediately since she had an embolism, or blood clot. She was then put on a blood thinner and monitored for several days until stable enough to go to a nursing home or “care center” so she can rehab to get strong enough to function at home. Interesting terms we use today to buffer the bad image, like “care center”.   This 72-bed skilled nursing facility was pretty typical: a 20 year old building, two to a room, four to a toilet, and bathing down the hall. All had a call button, TV, phone, dining room, therapy room, and very dehumanizing. But probably profitable for the national chain that owned it.

What is the answer? Well there are several answers. First, stay out of hospitals if you can…focus on prevention. Second, if you do go, take an advocate. The Center for Healthy Aging (CHA) is developing a Transitional Health Coach for those that do not have family or friends that can advocate for them while in the acute hospital and transitioning between care settings. If you are interested in this, let me know. Third, our health care system has to focus on outcomes and quality, not just the financing. Fourth, humanize our care. It does not take much to look at, communicate with, and touch people physically and emotionally. Fifth, explore all the alternatives in the community.

Many community and in-home services exist that maintain chronically-ill frail elders in their homes or less restrictive settings than nursing homes. We at the CHA are working with several organizations to develop better methods of getting these services to elders who need them. Sixth, plan, plan, plan. Disease is inevitable. Death is inevitable. While you are still together, plan for what you and your love ones would do if you or they become functionally incapacitated or die. We all want to live our lives fully and independently as possible. Therefore, in order to add life to your years, you need to take responsibility for your own health, plan for when you need help and what your wishes are, and then communicate that to your family and friends.  Be well.

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