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Elderly Caregivers are Desperate for Respite

Posted Nov 03 2008 9:02pm

I recently sat in on a meeting of administrators of various care programs and facilities for the elderly, a few family member-caregivers and social workers. I came away disheartened and dismayed about the predicaments in which some families are finding themselves.

The meeting, which was nothing more than a brainstorming session, came about due to a client situation in an adult day program that provides socialization and activities, but no health care. The director of that program has watched as the health of a 96-year-old client’s caregiver, a daughter well into her seventies, has deteriorated markedly over the past two years due to the physical stresses of caring for her mother at home.

The client needs to be in a nursing home but she has no funds. She is a Medicaid recipient and the waiting list for a Medicaid bed in a nursing home in this area is five years. Frustrated by the situation, the director made a few calls to others involved in elder care, looking for a solution to her client’s problem. Her queries had the unexpected result of generating a meeting to identify the problems and steps that could be taken to find the answers so many of them need.

It turns out that provisions for elder care vary greatly from state to state and, in the case of Colorado where I reside, even from county to county to some degree. To cut spending, the Colorado legislature has placed a moratorium on Medicaid nursing home beds. The number of beds, therefore, cannot be increased. The existing number is woefully inadequate and grows increasingly inadequate daily.

Problems are not limited to those who lack the funds to pay privately. The husband of a woman in attendance, who appeared to be in her mid-seventies, suffers with Alzheimer’s. He is a wanderer and needs to be in a secure unit but there is not a space for him anywhere in our large county. She remarked that it had nothing to do with money—they have long-term care insurance—there is simply no place for him. In addition, the fact that he is male is not in his favor. Males are deemed to be potentially aggressive, so facilities maintain a lower ratio of males to females.

I listened as family member-caregivers told their discouraging stories and recognized a sort of resignation in them. They are desperate for skilled care placement but at this point would settle for respite care in order to get a break from their never-ending responsibilities. One tired elderly man was near tears as he said, “If only there was respite care.”

The wife of the Alzheimer’s patient mentioned earlier told of wanting to go on a week-long trip. She called every facility in the area, seeking temporary care for her husband but found only dead ends. The only thing available to her was 24-hour in-home nursing at a cost of $365 per day, which was beyond what she could spend. She was able to go on the trip only because her son and son-in-law came from out-of-state to stay with her husband. I admire the men for making it possible for the woman to get a much deserved break but I also find it interesting that it took two men, probably in their fifties, to do for one week what a woman in her seventies does every day.

I came away from that meeting more than shell-shocked, as I could foresee similar, or worse, situations in my own life. It is a frightening prospect, that’s for sure, and we should all be cognizant of the dire possibilities that await us.

If those of you in states that are handling the elder care conundrum better than Colorado have experiences to share, I would like to hear from you.

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