Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 4
 
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
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Going Gentle Into That Good Night and Giving the Family Peace of Mind

Ellen Gilbert

“I’m always rushing to be home,” said one harried woman, describing the situation she and her partner face as her aging mother becomes less and less able to care for herself. Many children and spouses of declining seniors told similar stories at an informative program on “Senior Care Options” at the Princeton Public Library last Wednesday evening.

Jointly led by Health Care Ministry of Princeton Executive Director Carol Olivieri, Princeton Senior Resource Center Executive Director Susan W. Hoskins, and Hilary Murray, Director of Marketing at Buckingham Place, the session covered senior services and care options, including home care services, adult day programs, assisted living, and support groups for caregivers.

What to do?

“I don’t even know where to start,” observed the daughter of a woman who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The starting point, it was suggested, is a professional assessment to determine the level of care a person needs. Other variables include income level and, not incidentally, family dynamics: several people reported disagreements among siblings over how to deal with aging parents, as well as parents who were reluctant to give up their independence and move to assisted living facilities. When one woman described on-going strife between her husband and his brother, both of whom have power of attorney for their parents, the helpful suggestion was to divvy up responsibility, giving one brother responsibility for medical care, while the other handles financial issues.

Easing In

Respite care, a one-week to month-long temporary stay at a facility like Buckingham Place, may be a good solution to the “No, no, no! I’m staying in my own house!” problem, said Ms. Murray. Such short-term arrangements give senior adults a feel for daily life at these usually well-programmed complexes, in addition to giving caregivers a much-needed break from the constant stress and worry over loved ones who are often at risk for hurting themselves. There was a moment of black humor when, after one woman reported that her mother had set their broiler on fire, another observed that she, at least, doesn’t have to worry about the house burning down,since her mother no longer wants to eat.

Another ironic twist in the aging conundrum is the fact that adult children, who may have once child-proofed their homes with guards on stove knobs and electric socket covers, may now find themselves returning to Babies ‘R Us for these same devices — this time for their parents. Other helpful gadgets include “Wander guards,” available through the Alzheimer’s Association and bracelets issued by the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department. Both offer ways to track seniors who go for a walk and get lost.

Princeton Options

Ms. Hoskins described the Princeton Senior Resource Center as the “go-to” place for seniors in the area. The Center, which offers links to other services like adult day care and transportation, should, she said, “be the first stop on a caregiver’s journey.” She described the Center as having two functions. The first is as a social hub, where seniors meet for various activities on a regular basis and someone will notice if you’re not there (or, perhaps, have a theater ticket to share). The second is as a social services agency, helping people navigate the often red-tape-lined roads they must travel as they apply for medicare or food stamps. Other services include tax assistance, help with grocery shopping, home visits, and support groups for caregivers.

“Unless we come from a health care background,” noted Ms. Olivieri, none of us has really been taught how to take care of another person.” How do you lift someone out of bed, she asked, without hurting yourself? The goal of the Health Care Ministry of Princeton, she said, is to help the elderly remain in their own homes as long as safely possibly by providing supportive services. Noting that Princeton is rich in resources, she emphasized the importance of involving others in caring for an aging loved one. A how-to DVD available from the Red Cross, and publications like the American Bar Association’s “Law Points for Seniors,” and Comfort Keepers’ “When Love Isn’t Enough” are also valuable.

Ms. Murray emphasized the importance of taking “baby steps” in selecting and moving a loved one to an assisted living facility. She tried to dispel some of the “misconceptions about assisted living,” describing the various levels of care available and the helpful, safe environment each provides. Her suggestion that families visit a place several times before making a commitment elicited another darkly humorous story as one women described bringing her mother to the home they had finally settled on. When asked by one of the attendees if she was ready to stay, the mother responded “Don’t call me — I’ll call you.”

Participants were warned to be on the alert for “caregiver creep,” the slow, incremental process during which declining loved ones need more and more care. “Suddenly you’re in a place where you’re never getting out,” someone observed. The good news is, as Ms. Hoskins observed, “Your situations are all very similar to situations we deal with every day,” and there is help available.

Some Resources for Senior Care:

Health Care Ministry of Princeton: (609)921-8888; healthcareministry@verizon.net.

Princeton Senior Resource Center: (609) 924-7108; princetonsrc@yahoo,com.

Buckingham Place: (732) 329-8888; www.buckinghamplace.net.

Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org/index.asp.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: www.alzfdn.org/.

American Red Cross Health and Safety Services: www.redcross.org/services/hss/care/family.html.

American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging: www.abanet.org/aging/.

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