I first began creating a professional care team from thousands of miles away through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work. When I returned to work after the vacation in which mom was hospitalized, I knew I had to be prepared for the next crisis. Mom and dad both now needed someone to watch over their health and safety.
While mom was hospitalized, I saw her in a new way – older and frailer than I remembered. I saw changes I had refused to see over the past few years. Several times in recent years, my brother had told me I needed to “put mom and dad in a nursing home” and I refused. I still considered them to be competent to make their own decisions, though now they needed more help. Dad had a stroke in the past and was beginning to show signs of dementia. Mom looked out for his needs, counted out his medications, and had always taken care of the finances, etc. However, now I was worried about their future. My wok supervisor told me about the EAP program and suggested I contact them.
I called and they gave me information to make contact with an eldercare person based in their geographic location. They referred me to Eldersource and the Area Agency on Aging in the county where they lived in during the summer. That was where they currently were and that was where mom had been hospitalized.
The Agency on Aging told me I first had to get my parents assessed by their physician. From this assessment they would determine what services they would be entitled to. (I was not able to get many of the services I asked for). However, their own physician was in the southern state near their winter home. The agency gave me the name of a local doctor who made house calls and would do an assessment. This was a bonus I hadn’t asked for but was one of the most helpful services I obtained for them.
Dr. Jones and his nurse came out at different times, about every 2 weeks. He did an assessment on mom and dad and supervised their medications, etc. It gave me confidence to know that in an emergency we had a physician I could call who would come out though in fact we never needed him to do so. (In addition, the doctor or nurse could bill Medicare for their services, the same as a physician in an office, so the cost was minimal for my parents.)
Some of my concerns had to do with groceries and their isolation in their house far from stores, buses, etc. Mom had difficulty shopping now even though my brother drove her to a store when he was in town. When he traveled, mom had no way to get groceries. Mom also had macular degeneration, causing her to slowly lose her sight. She had some cousins with this disease and one had become legally blind from it. She now read the newspaper and books with a magnifying glass.
His assessment was did not show them to need all the services I had wanted for them. Also, he referred me to services which were not available to them based on the town in which they lived. For instance, for the Meals on Wheels programs in their town, I was told there was a 3-year waiting list. They also lost their place on the waiting list when they went south in the winter, yet they couldn’t manage in the snowy winters of the northern town where they lived.
I had hoped to have mom referred to someone who could help her with visual aids for reading the paper, cooking, etc. For that we were referred to “Lighthouse for the Blind” but she was not eligible until she became “legally blind” which was fortunately not imminent.
The agency sent us a brochure about senior services in that town which also included transportation to and from medical appointments. Mom and dad both obtained senior passes for the medical vans and used them on occasions. One of the transportation services could also be used to obtain groceries, but only if reserved in advance. Mom didn’t like having to plan in advance, but it was a good option for when my brother was traveling.
The senior services brochure also referred to a number to call to obtain the forms to apply for property tax relief based on their low income. This saved them several thousand dollars per year for several years until they no longer qualified as mom had passed away and dad was in assisted living.
I had hoped mom would qualify for house cleaning help, home maintenance help, and maybe a companion to check in on them. However, based on the assessment, their income and the number of people on the list ahead of them, they did not qualify for these services. I could have gotten mom a housekeeper or companion at a fairly low cost ($20 per hour) from a list they supplied, but mom insisted she did not want anyone coming in her house.
I started a notebook for mom with sections for different needs. She could refer to it for the Senior Brochure, the phone numbers for the transportation vans, for the doctor and his nurse, etc. This was the beginning of my education in providing care for mom and dad long distance. It gave me peace of mind for the time being, but I knew I would have to do it again when they went south for the winter!