• AO Preferred Partners
   • Senior Specials
   • AgingOptions Articles
   • Community Resources


  Choose Location(s)
   +Eastern Washington
   +Jefferson County
   +King County - East
   +King County - North
   +King County - South
   +Kitsap County
   +Olympic Peninsula
   +Pierce County
   +Seattle Area
   +Snohomish County
   +South Western WA
   +Thurston County

Dealing With A Loved Ones Incapacity

A slip and fall leading to a broken hip, a trip to the hospital on account of a stroke, heart attack or other acute illness, or a diagnosis of Alzheimers, Parkinsons or other form of dementia are all examples of medical issues that can turn a retirees life upside down. Typically, the entire family will be drawn into the situation. The issues created will be wide-ranging and raise the following questions for the patient:

  • Where will they go?
  • What will it cost?
  • Will we go broke?
  • Who will monitor their ongoing care?

Picture, for example, someone being rushed to a hospital because of a stroke. The medical professionals will likely succeed in saving the patients life, but the chances are better than even that at least for a period of time, the patient will not be returning home to lead a normal life. If rehabilitation is called for, the patient will likely be discharged to a nursing home or sent home with home health. At the time of discharge the patients medical situation has now become a housing issue. Whether the patient returns home or not will depend on a number of factors, including the support system the patient may have in place to attend to his/her needs, and whether or not the house is accessible and age appropriate. All of a sudden, a medical crisis will have become a housing issue calling for quick decisions to be made.

Once settled in a nursing home, so long as Medicare and health insurance cover the patients rehabilitation needs, life will be acceptable, but many seniors will find out that Medicare coverage will only pay so long (not more than 100 days of nursing home coverage and limited to that time frame when it is established that you are in need of skilled therapy. No need for skilled therapy no Medicare coverage). If the required therapy is short in duration a financial bullet will have been dodged. If, on the other hand, the patient fails to fully recover and requires the assistance of others to manage his/her day to day living activities, financial concerns will loom large and reliance on Medicare to address the patients care needs will prove to be misplaced. Nursing home care costs can range between $9,000 and $12,000 per month; home health can range between $2,000 and $20,000 per month depending on the level of care one may need. Without Medicare or long-term care insurance to cover these costs, most modest size estates will become vulnerable to going broke without the assistance of VA or Medicaid benefits. A medical condition that became a housing issue will soon become a financial issue as well as a legal issue because qualification for VA or Medicaid benefits will require input from legal counsel.

Where Will I Go? It is commonly accepted that a nursing home stay following a hospital stay for rehabilitation needs, or an institutional solution on account of dementia related issues, is to be expected. This is so despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans desire to live out their lives in their own homes. Research shows that the biggest concern seniors harbor about advancing years is the fear of becoming incapacitated and having to move to an institutional care setting for care. But, when the crisis happens and the family turns to medical providers for answers, usually the well meaning physicians or other medical professionals will focus more on keeping the patient safe, leading more physicians to prescribe institutional care as a solution of choice. The irony of this reality is that the same physicians will likely not hesitate in arranging for hospice services for their terminally ill patients who show a desire to live out their last days at home, clearly demonstrating that the support systems needed to allow one to access medical needs at home exist even though they are not prescribed to those outside of the hospice system. This makes the question, where will I go?, more tricky than one would expect it to be.

What Will It Cost? Medical costs in or outside a hospital setting, is not cheap. Nursing home costs can range between $9,000 to over $12,000 per month; assisted living communities can range between $3,000 to over $7,000 per month; adult family homes can range between $2,500 to over $7,000 per month; and, home health can range from a few thousand dollars to well over $20,000 per month depending on the amount of care ordered. Most of the care provided at home is informal and unpaid care by family members, mostly for cost reasons, and only because of ignorance on how Medicare, VA, and Medicaid benefits can be enabled to help cover some of the care costs.

Will I Go Broke? Paying for my long-term care needs not covered by Medicare? If your estate is valued at between $50,000 and $1,500,000; you do have a greater risk of losing your estate to uncovered medical and long-term care costs than you do to estate taxes. The longer you have to endure uncovered medical and long-term care costs the more likely it is that you will deplete your assets while you are still living. Be wary of statistics that suggest that the average time a person spends in a nursing home is less than three years (which is true); but the average time a person spends in a long-term care setting, if the stay is prompted due to dementia related issues, is closer to 8 years. Therefore, in calculating whether you will run out of money, you have to account for about 8 years of uncovered care, which can tax even modest size estates. Clearly you want to avoid spending your estate down to nothing while you have a spouse or a mate still living, leaving them financially vulnerable.

Who Will Monitor My Care? This issue takes on exceptional urgency given the Seattle Times expose of the deplorable care provided by several cited adult family home owners to residents who looked to them for assistance with care needs. Simply placing a person in the hands of institutional care providers is no guarantee that the care needs will be optimal. Even if a person is in a relatively stable institution, little guidance will be available on how to improve the residents care without outside intervention. For example, most nursing homes will follow the federal guidelines of providing their residents a bath only once a week; placement can leave a person in a semi-private room that will sometimes house as many as four residents in a small room; there will be little to no time spent making sure that the resident has outside time or exercise; and, nutrition will lack variety. All these issues could be altered to the benefit of the resident with small amounts of financial or time investment on the parts of family and friends. Generally, without knowledge, little is done to monitor or improve the basic care one receives in an institutional care setting.

Who Will Care For The Caregiver? Finally, the caregiver, particularly if it is the spouse, is often lost and forgotten in the equation. It is not uncommon for a spouse to feel guilty in expressing his/her own difficulties on account of the ill spouses long-term care journey. This often leads to the caregiving spouse falling ill or sometimes passing away due to stress-related complications or neglect of the caregivers own medical needs.

2011 - Rajiv Nagaich