Monday, September 20, 2010

Eldercare Tip: With Adult Family Homes, It's 'Buyer Beware'

Choosing an adult family home, or group home, for your aging parent can be dicey. Nationwide, this 20-year-old phenomenon is touted as cheaper and more homelike than a nursing home. But better?

That depends. Clean and comfortable, a well-run adult family home is staffed with consistent caregivers who love and understand the elderly. In such an atmosphere, music, nutritious meals and activities will fill your parent's day.

Finding such a place requires diligence. State regulators can't keep up with the pace of this rapidly growing industry, making it easy for ill-trained, money-grabbing owners to exploit the elderly and their families.

So says The Seattle Times. Last week it published the fourth and fifth segment of the investigative series "Seniors for Sale," a critical examination of adult family homes in Washington State. Earlier segments ran in January.

In reviewing years of state records, the reporter, Michael Berens, noted that of the 11,200 residents living in the state's 2,843 homes, thousands have been exploited financially or harmed by unqualified caregivers. He reported accounts of victims imprisoned in their beds at night, strapped to their chairs during the day or left without proper medical treatment for weeks.

In scores of cases, the report continued, owners collected monthly payments while playing the miser. They eliminated meals, turned off heat or left residents in soaked clothing for days.

The abuse and neglect mentioned above, as awful as it is, doesn't tell the whole story. Earlier this year I met an 80-something man named Paul at Northshore Senior Center. He lives in one of three adult family homes in the Shoreline, Washington, area, owned by Laura Cirves, RN. They're called For Senior's Sake.

Once a week Paul goes dancing at the senior center, thanks to transportation provided by the adult family home. Other times he and the other residents go out to lunch and attend baseball games. They receive manicures and permanents. Live musicians perform weekly.

Laura's homes are licensed for residents with dementia and mental health issues. Despite their medical diagnoses, the residents get every chance at life possible.

"My mission is to increase the quality of the lives in my care," Laura says.

The next post will give some guidelines in choosing an adult family home.

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