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Study assisted-living options for aging parents

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 30, 2010

The residents at the assisted-living facility looked so frail, many sitting in wheelchairs or hunched over their walkers, making their way slowly along the hallways.

"Let's give our kids everything they want anytime they ask so they won't put us in a place like this," I whispered to my husband.

I was joking, of course. I had to lighten the mood. We are scouting places for my father-in-law. It was our first tour of an assisted-living facility, and this one was nice and homey, as were all the ones we visited.

A month ago, my 81-year-old father-in-law came to live with us while he recuperated from surgery. We now face a question that millions of adults are facing: What do you do with elderly parents or relatives who can no longer fully take care of themselves?

Thus began a journey that has caused me so much stress that I woke up one morning with a painful neck strain that lasted two days.

We are exploring various options, including having my father-in-law continue living in our home, returning him to his own home and hiring a home health-care aide to provide daily care, or having him moved into an assisted-living facility.

Since I first wrote about this new turn in my life, I've received dozens of e-mails from people with great advice and comforting words. There is so much to say about the issue of elder long-term care, more than I can address in any one column. For example, many people -- including a number of insurance agents -- wanted me to talk about long-term-care insurance. I'll do that in a future column, but it's too expensive to buy now for someone my father-in-law's age and in his medical condition.

Many pointed out that I should look into the Aid and Attendance program for veterans because my father-in-law served in the military. We had no idea he might be eligible for financial assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs to help pay for long-term care. This special pension benefit is also available to a surviving spouse. We are studying this program, and I've found a lot of helpful information at Veteranaid.org.

But in the short term, we're looking for a temporary place for my father-in-law so we can take our regular family vacation. It's too late to cancel our plans.

On the advice of someone in the industry, we began checking out assisted-living centers that provide respite care or a temporary stay. It's a great idea because it allows my father-in-law to test whether he might like living full time in such a facility without making a long-term financial commitment.

Assisted living is a bridge between independent living and a nursing home. In assisted living, residents have their own space in mostly small studio or one- or two-bedroom apartments but are helped with "activities of daily living" or ADLs. (By the way, it really helps to become familiar with the terminology.)

In assisted-living facilities, the residents are provided meals and are helped with bathing, dressing, laundry, housekeeping and medications. Most facilities will tailor a plan for services for each resident.


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