Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sign placed over a patient’s bed reads, “I Am Somebody’s Sweetheart”

The month of February and Valentines Day brings a celebration of love and stirs couples to rekindle feelings of romance and devotion. Not so different from young couples are aging seniors, celebrating memories of sweethearts and romance in days gone by.

Sit a while with a senior couple and they will soon be telling you their romance story or listen to a widow or widower as they sing their favorite love song from their youth.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s can rob senior minds of many of these treasured memories, changing their personality and life style. Because of these and other illnesses, many seniors end up in nursing homes or care facilities where only their basic physical needs are cared for by the facility staff. To these seniors, Valentines Day becomes no different from every other day. They often find it difficult to relive memories of the past. In one care facility a sign placed lovingly over a patient’s bed reads, “I Am Somebody’s Sweetheart,” as if to say I once dreamed, lived and loved, please treat me kindly.

When asked how she relates to those she cares for, nurse assistant Karen W. replies that most of the time it's those patients who are causing a disturbance or may be in danger of harming themselves who are the ones that get her attention. Even then she can only take care of the immediate problem. Very seldom has she time to personally get to know well all the elderly people she cares for.

Although this is true with many facilities, the need for more personalized care is, in some cases, being recognized. Assisted living facilities with specialized memory care programs -- some using art, music and dance or physical activities -- are finding great success with increasing the quality of life for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Many care facilities across the nation are adding these programs to better serve their residents.

If you cannot find a facility in your area that provides this special attention, home care may be a better option.
Consider this real experience. When Nora would visit her father in the nursing home she would find him sitting, slumped over and disinterested in his surroundings. By the time she and her young children finished their visit, he was alert and talking to them. Feeling he would do better in her home environment, Nora enlisted the services of a Geriatric Care Manager to evaluate her father and determine what would be needed for his care at home so that he could get the social stimulation that he needed.

A Geriatric Care Manager can be a valuable asset to family members when it becomes necessary to look at alternatives for their loved one's long term care. They work with all members of the family in educating about resources and making decisions. Some services provided are.
  • Make an assessment about the type of care need
  • Develop a care plan for care both current and future care
  • Work with physicians in getting medical support
  • Find home care services that work with the families needs
  • Provide assistance with legal and financial issues
Appropriate home care services are also often necessary when a change in environment is called for. Home care services vary, depending on what is needed, and may change as caregiving requirements change in regards to the physical or mental health of the elderly person.
Types of Home Care are:
  • Home health care companies: provide nurses, physical therapists, social workers and aides that assist with basic health care such as changing bandages, taking vital signs and helping with medication as well as a host of other skilled needs.
  • Non-medical home providers: help with bathing, dressing, meals, ambulating, chores, errands, housekeeping and much, much more.
Home care personnel are skilled in working with the spouse and extended family members of their ailing loved one to provide needed services and support in the home. They add consistency in the care and are available in time of crisis or need to add additional services.

With help from her Geriatric Care Manager, Nora brought her father to her home for his care. The care manager worked with her father’s doctor, prescribing a physical therapist and nurse's aid to come to the home. A non-medical home care company was employed to help with daily bathing and dressing.

Another resource available to families, which is not used as often as it should be, is hospice. Hospice care is provided in the home or in a hospice facility, hospital or nursing home. When illness is terminal, hospice service is provided by a team which includes doctors, nurses, grief counselors, aides and social workers as needed. These services can be provided at no out-of-pocket cost by Medicare.

In her internet article Naomi Naierman, President and CEO of the American Hospice Foundation states:
“As a Medicare beneficiary, you are entitled to the Medicare Hospice Benefit without additional premiums. If you are enrolled in a managed care organization (MCO) you have access to this benefit, even if the MCO does not cover hospice services.
The Medicare Hospice Benefit covers the following hospice services in full:
  • Skilled nursing services
  • Volunteer Services
  • Physician visits
  • Skilled therapy
  • Home health aide visits
  • Medical social services
  • Spiritual counseling
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Bereavement support for the family”
There is a growing market for care providers throughout the nation to fill the need of senior care services.  Assisted living, home care and hospice care, geriatric care managers and geriatric clinics are all just part of these services.  The National Care Planning Council supports family caregivers with information and resources of all types of long term care services on its website:

"Somebody’s Sweetheart" may be in need of your loving care someday and help is available to reduce your burden and ease the journey.

Photographer: m_bartosch

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