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Live Life On Your Own Terms

running optAccording to a 2002 National Institutes of Health study, false negative perceptions of aging can take an average of 7½ years off a person’s life. They can also cost elders and their families large expenditures for senior care that’s not needed. And according to writer and activist Ashton Applewhite, too many people have been “brainwashed by negative myths and stereotypes.” In her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, she marshals statistics from the NIH study to debunk them.

Myth #1: Most seniors end up in nursing homes.

Fact: only 2½ percent of Americans over 65 – and 9 percent of those 85 and older – are in nursing homes. Low as they are, those percentages are dropping.

rob loweIn the decade before winning his first Screen Actors Guild Award, actor Rob Lowe was cast in a different role. “When I was in my thirties,” he wrote in USA Today, “my brothers and I cared for our mother throughout her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. It’s not a role I was expecting to land, it didn’t come with much preparation, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done – and, undeniably, one of the most difficult."

“Often,” he adds, “that means you’ll skip your social obligations, wreck your diet, suffer sleep deprivation, and even risk your career, all to help a loved one through the most difficult time of their life.”

According to National Alliance for Caregiving estimates, 43.5 million Americans selflessly serve as unpaid family caregivers for loved ones. Of those, 85% are caring for a relative, 60% are women. On the average, their caregiving occupies 24.4 hours a week of their time as they do “everything from housework to advocating with health care professionals to complex medical/nursing tasks.”

No wonder 70% of US caregivers feel tired most of the time, 57% suffer from sleep trouble, 49% from feelings of depression and 46% from weight fluctuation – to say nothing of the financial stress resulting from sacrificing an aggregate of nearly $3 trillion in lost wages, pension and Social Security benefits and averaging $7000 a year in out-of-pocket caregiving expenses.

Take care of yourselves.

choose the right al optWhat happens if our three-part needs assessment – of physical, psychosocial and mental status – shows that it’s time to move to an assisted living facility?

Then, the question is, which one? And it’s a tough one. As a former executive director of assisted living communities, I know just how confusing, how complex, how segmented, and how seemingly endless the array of senior care assisted living options can be.

Based on this experience in both holistic senior care and the assisted living industry, and knowing your specific needs, we can give you and your family a neutral analysis of your options, complete with each one’s advantages and drawbacks.

But the decision itself is yours, and it needs to be based on your own first-hand observations. Here are some tips for evaluating each option.

who needs assisted livingAccording to the Family Caregiver Alliance there’s a 68 percent probability that a disability will keep people 65 or older from performing at least two Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) during the rest of their lives. These ADLs include bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, oral hygiene, grooming, and walking from place to place.

And according to the National Center for Assisted Living, more than 735,000 Americans live in assisted living settings, which combine homelike living, a social setting, and ADL assistance. In a 2010 CDC national survey, some 70 percent of residents reported needing help with bathing, just under 60 percent with going outside, and about 45 percent with dressing. Yet, almost one-third of respondents to the same survey reported receiving no ADL assistance at all.

So the first question for yourself, a parent or an older family member is, how much assistance, of what kind, is needed. That’s why our holistic senior care management starts with a detailed three-part assessment – with seniors and their families – of physical, psychosocial and mental status. Then you’ll know what kind of care you need and where it’s needed.

healthcare advocate optDoctors and hospitals, even the very best, are neither infallible nor omniscient. Moreover, since they see you only from time to time, none has as intimate and up-to-date knowledge of your own body as you do.

That’s why, to ensure proper care, everybody needs a healthcare advocate. And why the older you are – with more health issues, more different doctors and doctor visits, and more prescriptions– the more you need one.

Your healthcare advocate can be a family member, a friend, a volunteer from your religious congregation, or a social worker. It can be a patient advocate from a hospital or Medicare Advantage Plan (though most are there for you at the time of discharge from a hospital, residential rehab center or skilled nursing facility, rather than continuously). It can be a nonprofit advocacy organization or a professional healthcare advocacy consultant.