Are you ready for what comes next?

By DEB TAYLOR

GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Every parent knows the urgency of waiting for the arrival of a newborn. They have nine months to plan and prepare. There are purchases to make: furniture, stroller, car seat and such. Work plans and child care often must be arranged. Significant planning goes into this important life event, but what about the other end of life, the later years?

More than 90 percent of all moves to a senior community are driven by a crisis: a fall, reduced mobility, poor diet, cognitive challenges and other illnesses. And families are often caught in the gap between effective response and feeling ill-prepared. Unlike the blissful parents of newborns, the caregiver of an older adult may feel caught off-guard, stressed and confused.

Among Minnesota seniors still living independently in their own home, 92 percent of their care is handled by family and friends, often with little or no experience and understanding of what’s required of a caregiver. It’s the classic on-the-job training, with plenty of potential mistakes to be made without adequate preparation. While taking care of a loved one is a valuable and honorable role, it can be an overwhelming and exhausting responsibility without adequate support services.

Care Plan Enhances Quality of Life

Thankfully, Minnesota families facing senior care decisions have an abundance of helpful resources available. Experts are available to help you better understand the care needs and help you connect with the support that’s right for your situation.

Senior Community Services joins with the Wilder Foundation and DARTS to offer caregiver services to the entire metro area through Eldercare Partners. This partnership helps seniors and their caregivers cope with the challenges of aging in a variety of ways.

The range of services include assistance with resources, hourly consultation, family meetings, needs assessment of the senior and caregiver coaching (similar to the format of life/career coaching). All of these services are designed to reduce caregiver stress and improves the caregivers’ ability to provide care longer, in a way that’s healthier for them and the senior for whom they care.

Studies have shown that services to support caregivers may allow them to delay nursing home placement for loved ones by nearly two years. This is so important because seniors prefer to live independently for as long as possible in their own home. And, frankly, the cost of staying at home is usually much less than living in a more restrictive senior care community.

Like planning for a newborn, getting the best information ahead of time – when the situation starts to change – can help avert a senior care crisis. If a senior struggles with household chores, maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet, and making the best health care decisions, an effective care plan with services eases many challenges in a  respectful and dignified way. As the family’s helping role increases, the appropriate caregiver services can better equip them to care for the older adult – as well as for themselves.

Let’s reimagine aging, so our community is as accommodating of the needs of seniors as it is for children. A place where walkers and wheelchairs are as welcome as bikes, strollers, and scooters. A community where all generations can enjoy the best of this time we call the later years, with less stress and more promise. Are you ready?

 

Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services and the Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost services. Visit seniorcommunity.org for more information. Eldercare Partners can be reached at 651-234-2262.

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