The advancements in medical science have significantly increased longevity, enabling more individuals to enjoy longer lives. Yet, with aging comes the likelihood that many will eventually need assistance with daily living activities or supervision due to cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Frequently, families find themselves without a prior plan, necessitating their involvement in care.
Such involvement from family and friends can lead to considerable physical, emotional, and financial strains. Adult children and their spouses often face the dilemma of balancing work with the need to provide care, sometimes resulting in financial hardships.
In many cases, the solution involves relocating the loved one to a facility that offers specialized long-term care, such as assisted living, memory care, or nursing home. This transition, while necessary, can be challenging for both the individual moving and their family members, underlining the complexity of managing cognitive decline and the need for facility-based care.
Cognitive Decline Often Requires Facility Care
Approximately half of adults with dementia reside in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and about 70% of Americans with dementia will die in a nursing home. Whether the need for a facility is supervision or help with activities of daily living, the need to find solutions for a better transition is just as critical as how it will be paid for and the impact of a family’s assets.
Dr. Thomas Schweinberg serves as the staff neuropsychologist for the Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. Schweinberg has worked with nursing home residents and several close family members who resided in long-term nursing facilities.
It is very important, even critical, for these patients to have familiar and emotionally meaningful items surrounding them in their rooms. Photos of loved ones, mementos of happy times, and other items with which they have a positive emotional connection really go a long way towards improving the quality of their day-to-day life while living in a nursing facility.
He says the unfamiliar surroundings of a long-term care facility can be made to feel more like home, which gives the person more connection to their past life to ease the transition.
This can be particularly true for those patients with dementia. With dementia, patients can become all the more disoriented, and perhaps even upset, by the unfamiliar surroundings and people. However, even those with dementia often have their long-term memories firmly intact. Having visual reminders of their previous lives can be very reassuring for them and can help to keep them grounded and rooted in who they are and what their lives have been about even if their current circumstances are confusing and unfamiliar.
Schweinberg notes that photographs, mementos, and the memories they bring to mind can have a psychologically therapeutic effect. This can improve mood and a more optimistic perspective for elderly family members.
Reminiscence Therapy is one therapeutic approach highlighted by Schweinberg. It revolves around the concept of revisiting and discussing past memories, offering emotional benefits and enhancing well-being.
Even memories of difficult life circumstances can help to reduce or alleviate depression in elderly patients.
Pets and Long-Term Care
Since so many people have had multiple pets during their lifetime, can the power of pets be put to good use to help a person make their kind of transition? Schweinberg says, yes.
It has been well-established that pets have a therapeutic and often calming impact on people in general. However, there is also evidence that, for the elderly, owning and interacting with pets can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction, and increase physical activity. These last two benefits are particularly helpful to the elderly, who often begin to limit their activities and increasingly withdraw from the interpersonal world around them.
Ali Orr, a well-known artist who specializes in pet drawings, says she deals with many families in this situation (https://www.etsy.com/shop/AliOrrArt or on Facebook at @aliorrart - www.facebook.com/aliorrart)
People absolutely adore their pets and really do view them as members of the family. I am obsessed with my dog and cannot picture my life without him in it. A lot of my customers are completely head-over-heels for their pets as well and even view their pets as their babies no matter what age they might be.
Photos and Drawings of Favorite Pets Help Those in Care
Orr is often asked to create drawings of pets, both living and dead. This can bring strong positive memories and emotions for people.
These drawings give people comfort, which is an amazing feeling for me and I am glad that the drawing is part of their healing process. I’ve watched or heard people cry as they opened their gift and reminisce on the memories of their pets. Each time is an emotional moment.
These gifts for older family members can bring a strong positive outlook that Dr. Schweinberg says the key to a transition to Long-Term Care.
Being able to talk about one’s past life experiences to someone who is genuinely interested and actively listening can provide these patients with an enhanced self-esteem, a sense of meaning about their lives, as well as a sense of validation regarding their worth as a person. Also, the opportunity to reminisce with an interested listener can also provide something that psychologists refer to as “generativity,” which refers to the sense of satisfaction and purpose that comes with being able to pass on the life lessons they have learned, and the hard-earned wisdom that their life experiences provided them, to someone younger.
Orr mentions that people often provide her with several photographs of pets they have owned over the years. She then crafts artwork from these photos, designed to adorn the walls of a person's room, facilitating their adjustment to life in a long-term care facility.
In this example, three individual photographs become one group drawing.
My hope that every drawing I make either brings someone comfort when remembering the pets that have passed away or brings happiness when they see the resemblance of their pet in the drawing. I hope when someone looks at the drawing of their pet(s) that it brings a lot of memories, big and small.
Orr explains that photographs, paintings, furniture, etc. are all items that make space feel like home. She says these items bring comfort.
A drawing of a pet is more than a picture, though. We all take pictures of our family members and capture memories, but a drawing brings a pet to life. These drawings have sentimental value and are physical and visual reminders of memories of their pet. I hope that my drawings allow the pet owner to immediately recall the memory.
Dr. Schweinberg says the process of moving into a long-term nursing care facility requires many substantial adjustments, many of them being difficult to accept.
It involves not only giving up one’s own home but also giving up many aspects of one’s independence and identity. Because of this, such an adjustment is often accompanied with a significant sense of grief and loss.
Family Can be Frustrated Without Advance Planning
He points out that families face the difficult task of supporting their loved ones through a life transition that is frequently unwelcome and met with resistance. Schweinberg acknowledges the frustration this process can cause for the entire family and advocates for as much preparation in advance as possible.
Engaging with the staff at the facility can offer families insights and alleviate some of the apprehensions an elderly family member may have about moving from their previous life to this new "home."
It is extremely important that family members remain supportive, positive and encouraging throughout the process. This includes listening as their loved one talk about what they will miss about their home and the life that they are leaving behind.
Schweinberg says this validates the difficult feelings that such a transition into long-term care can bring.
He suggests family members should remain patient and understanding. Their loved one will often be resistant and cynical about the need for long-term health care, be in denial about their health issues, and how they feel about making a big life transition. Planning, in part with the use of photographs and other memories, including pet drawings, can ease this fear many will feel.
This is a transition for the entire family system, not just for the elderly family member. Typically, the more family members who are involved in preparing for and facilitating this transition, the better the outcome.
The financial burden of long-term health care emerges as a significant worry for both the elderly individual and their family. A Long-Term Care Insurance policy could have covered many of these expenses had it been purchased years before, substantially easing the family's financial strain.
Unfortunately, without such foresight and planning, families often grapple with a financial and emotional crisis, struggling to manage the high costs of necessary care. Proactive measures, including securing Long-Term Care Insurance well before the onset of aging or health issues, can be crucial in preventing such distressing situations.
Long-Term Care Insurance Makes it Easier on Everyone
Without a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, individuals are often forced to use income and deplete personal savings and assets to afford the costs associated with long-term care services. According to the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator, the cost of long-term care services is skyrocketing nationwide. These costs will adversely impact families and finances.
Traditional health insurance plans, including Medicare and supplements, will only pay for skilled short-term care, leaving families to shoulder most of the cost and burden independently. While Medicaid does provide for long-term care, eligibility is contingent on the recipient having minimal income and assets, which may not be feasible for many.
Another benefit of proactive planning is the freedom of choice it provides. By securing a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, you'll have the financial means to afford high-quality care services, including in-home care and facility-based care. This availability of resources makes the transition into a care setting smoother for everyone involved.
As you navigate the challenges of caring for aging parents, the present moment stands as the optimal time to prepare for your own future health declines and aging process. Securing Long-Term Care Insurance is most advantageous when done in your 40s or 50s. However, affordable options are available for those in their 60s and beyond, depending on health.
Early planning guarantees access to your choice of quality care in any setting you desire. Plus, an LTC policy safeguards personal finances, allowing family members to maintain their roles without the added responsibility of caregiving. This foresight ensures that loved ones can dedicate their time to being family rather than caregivers, preserving the emotional and financial well-being of all involved.
Transitioning to Care with Quality Options
Adjusting to changes in later life, especially when it involves a loss of independence, can be particularly challenging. Enhancing the appeal of the home or facility environment is beneficial, but beginning with high-quality care options can significantly ease any transition.
Remaining at home often facilitates a smoother transition, provided the home is adapted to be age and disability-friendly. Top-notch in-home care providers can offer the necessary assistance with daily living activities and the required supervision.
The search for reputable adult day care centers, assisted living facilities, memory care units, and nursing homes can be daunting. How do you identify the best options? The LTC NEWS Caregiver Directory allows you to explore over 80,000 listings nationwide, complete with ratings and insights into the services they offer. This resource simplifies the process of narrowing down your choices, making it easier to find quality care.
The directory is free: Long-Term Care Directory | Find Care Near You.
1Reimer MA, Slaughter S, Donaldson C, Currie G, Eliasziw M. Special Care Facility Compared with Traditional Environments for Dementia Care: A Longitudinal Study of Quality of Life. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004;52:1085–1092
2Mitchell SL, Kiely DK, Jones RN, Prigerson H, Volicer L, Teno JM. Advanced Dementia Research in the Nursing Home: The CASCADE Study. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2006;20:166–175.
About the Author
Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.
Contributor since October 31st, 2017
As you get older, you might worry about needing long-term care someday, which can be tough for you and your family. But don't worry; many people are looking into Long-Term Care Insurance to protect themselves from the high costs and emotional stress that come with long-term care needs. It's like a shield to help you stay financially and emotionally secure, giving loved ones the time to remain family instead of becoming caregivers.
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- Adult Day Care Centers (ADCCs)
- Assisted Living and Memory Care Facilities
- Finding a Quality Nursing Home
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