“You don’t know what you don’t know.”
These are the words that repeated in my head while I was caring for my elderly parents.
If I didn’t ask the right questions, I didn’t get the answers I needed.
But I didn’t always know what questions to ask — and not asking them was costing me time and money.
I needed an advocate.
Fortunately — thanks to a couple decades working as a communications specialist within the senior services market — I had the resources to find what I needed.
I had written about eldercare, educated the public and promoted senior services across print, broadcast and digital channels, encouraging caregivers to reach out for help and support.
Now it was my turn to practice what I preached: It was time for me to hire a geriatric care manager.
A lot of people are unaware of geriatric care managers and the services they provide.
A few years prior to my time of crisis, I met Deborah Dolan, a gerontologist, geriatric care manager and owner of Senior Life Transitions, LLC (now retired).
Her knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, senior housing and care services was exceptional.
And she had a notable track record for helping aging seniors and their adult children navigate through health-care organizations and eldercare-service systems to find the resources they needed.
Deborah became my advocate.
The most important thing she taught me was to recognize the love, sacrifice and support I was giving my parents.
When in crisis-care situations, it’s easy to feel like an incompetent failure because you’re jumping the hurdles of care management blindfolded, with no applicable experience on your resume.
Amid my chaos, Deborah saw the love in my heart and respect for my parents and pointed out that it was admirable.
Her acknowledgement completely changed my perception of how I was caring for my parents.
It took me from feeling incompetent and depleted to realizing that I was giving instinctively, driven by love and honor. This would become the driving force for every move and decision I made over the next few years.
The decisions I made about my parents’ care were always difficult, but they were made easier with Deborah’s help. I interviewed her for this article with a focus on the most important issues for me.
I hope the information makes managing care of an elderly parent, relative or friend a little easier for you:
Q: Why is it important for a caregiver to acknowledge their value above their competency?
A: Caregiving is physically and emotionally draining, and it’s magnified by feelings of incompetency. Care is an admirable gift of love. And because YOU know your parent or loved one’s history better than any doctor every could, it makes YOU the expert. Always trust your instincts and your devotion when making decisions. Share information with doctors, nurses and social workers to let them know your loved one’s wishes. Rely on your care manager to lead the tough conversations, so you can remain in your loving position.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake families make when it comes to eldercare?
A: Families make financial and estate plans, but they don’t typically put an aging plan together for later-in-life or end-of-life decisions.
Families can end up reacting to crisis — instead of being proactive by talking about things beforehand. Having tough conversations when a crisis isn’t in the works, allows for more thoughtful decisions about preferences regarding lifestyle, finances, spirituality, health care and housing. Just like health-care providers strive to “treat the whole person,” the same is necessary with eldercare, so your loved ones can age with grace, support and access to the things that are important to them.
Q: Knowing the facts on Medicare coverage and transitional care can save you thousands of dollars. What do caregivers need to know?
A: One of the most important Medicare issues is “observation” verses “admission” to hospitals. A three-night “admitted” hospital stay is necessary to qualify for additional therapies and care to be paid for by Medicare. If your loved one is placed in a room under observation, he or she isn’t technically fully admitted to the hospital.
This isn’t a time to sit back and hope for the best. Push for admission. Also, if you feel your loved one is being discharged from the hospital too soon — because he or she need additional therapies within a transitional care unit before returning home — talk to the social worker assigned to your case.
Ask questions, discuss the discharge order, push for an extra night in the hospital and file an appeal, if necessary. A social worker can also help you find a transitional care facility in preparation for discharge.
Q: How can families prepare to cover expenses while respecting legacy wishes?
A: Quality eldercare is costly and can quickly wipe out one’s financial resources. Talk to an elder law attorney, even if you don’t think you have any money. A home is the biggest asset most people have, so if you wish for it to be part of your legacy plan, you’ll have to find out how to protect the property as part of your estate.
Some people end up forced to sell their homes and other assets to help pay for care.
Transferring property ownership to your children is an option to prevent you from having to sell property to pay for care. Currently, a property transfer of that type must be done seven years prior to needing financial assistance, but the rule can change, so check the status before moving forward.
Q: When is Medicaid a consideration?
A: Currently in Minnesota, when income and other qualifying financial resources total less than $3,000, Medicaid becomes an option for supplementary care costs.
Again, this is an example of why families need to look ahead, have conversations and create a plan, so they’re not left scrambling at the last minute to find money to cover needed care. This is another important topic to discuss with an eldercare attorney.
You can also gather information via the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) or call the Senior Linkage Line (800-333-2433), a free state-wide information and assistance service provided by six area agencies on aging that cover all 87 counties in Minnesota.
To learn more about geriatric care manager services, visit Care Options Network to access a list of senior care services and the network’s Senior Care Guidebook.
The cost of hiring a geriatric care manager can range from $50 to $200 per hour, with $100 being the most common.
For more than 25 years, Kari Logan has helped Minnesotans find the words to educate, promote and inspire readers across multiple industries, state government and non-profit organizations. She lives in Falcon Heights with her husband, Ian, and is the proud mother of a daughter, Britt, who is following in her writing and public relations footsteps.