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Parents to Our Parents – What One Daughter Wishes She Had Done Differently with an Aging Parent

Author GreatDad Writers
Submitted 09-03-2009

When you have kids of your own, you sense the changing of the generations. I hope your parents are young and you have thirty years before you have to think of elder care, but likely they are old enough you have to at least imagine the need some day. This article, written by a New York Times writer specializing in old age issues, still feels she made several mistakes in caring for her older mother.

What I Wish I’d Done Differently
By Jane Gross
Looking back on the last few years of my mother’s life, with 20/20 hindsight and the belated knowledge that came from four years of reporting about aging for The New York Times, my single biggest mistake was not finding a doctor with expertise in geriatrics to quarterback her care and attend to the quality of her life, not merely its length.

Given the crisis in supply and demand — too many old people and too few geriatricians — I may not have succeeded. But if I had, many of our crises might have been avoided. Those include unnecessary trips to the emergency room that left her in worse shape than she had been beforehand. It also includes surgery to remove a benign tumor from the outside of her spinal cord after it had already done the worst of its damage and with no regard for her advanced age.

[From What I Wish Id Done Differently – Caring for Elderly Parents – The New Old Age blog – NYTimes.com]

Her other three mistakes were:

2. Accepting the “conventional wisdom” that nursing homes are uniformly bad and barely fit for a dog, and to be avoided at all costs. While she liked assisted living, it did not provide enough care as her mother got older, necessitating many changes, all of which were added work and destabilizing to her mother and the family.

3. Thinking that a move out of the home to assisted living was the best choice. Once the move is made out of the home, you lose all opportunities for home care, and a nursing home becomes the only option when assisted living is no longer possible.

4. Not fully understanding the limits of her $7000/year long term care insurance policy. It would have paid for 24/7 in-home care, but helped very little for assisted living. Once her mother was in a nursing home, the money went directly to the nursing home along with all of her savings until she ran out of money (when Medicare took over because she was “impoverished.”

As Jane Gross, the writer, points out, it’s hard to know how to avoid any mistakes since the sands are rapidly shifting in elder care and benefits, but her biggest words of advice are to research the situation now before you need it, since “haste, often the result of panic, is the enemy.