Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It (2012) was a very good year for reforms in senior care referral agencies

Many senior care referral agencies do great work.  These caring professionals help ease difficult transitions to home care, assisted living and adult family homes. They provide education and outline available options to help consumers make informed decisions. They're upfront about how they're paid:  generally by the care provider, not the senior or their family member. Bottom line: they care.

Some agencies weren’t measuring up, though.  So, Washington State passed legislation that went into effect January 1 of this year, to put referral agencies under increased scrutiny.  The Elder and Vulnerable Adult Referral Agency Act came about in part as a result of public outrage beginning in 2010 over media coverage of referral agencies referring elders to care providers who had documented cases of neglect and abuse. 

At year's end, I can say the wake-up call sounded January 1 was good. If you're looking for in-home care, assisted living or adult family homes and use an agency, the law gives you and your aging parent added protection. For example, the law mandates that if an agency refers you to a care provider, within 30 days of the referral, they must have checked the Department of Social and Health Services website for assisted living and adult family homes or the Department of Health website for home care.  The agency must look for State Enforcement letters (letters that point out violations, fines and stop placement orders), and give you copies of the letters.  In addition, referral agencies need to keep detailed information about every provider they refer to and update it at least annually.

There are other provisions that protect you, the consumer.  Each agency must have $1,000,000 worth of professional and general liability insurance.  And agency employees are "mandatory reporters."  This means that if they witness or suspect any abuse, neglect or financial exploitation they must report it to the appropriate authorities.

A key provision of the law requires an extensive intake of the elder which includes questions on diagnoses, medications, daily routine, food preferences, allergies, personal care needs and more.  When done well, the intake helps a provider determine whether he or she can meet the elder's needs. The law also requires that confidential health care information be treated the same way your doctor treats it.

I work for a housing and care referral agency called Silver Age. I'm proud of what we do to help families, and proud of the protection the new law has given to vulnerable adults.

Bottom line:  the law was needed, both to protect elders from abuse, and to keep all referral agencies accountable. That's good for you and your aging parent.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Your Parent Has Early Dementia? Ways to Grow Your Support System

Does your parent have early dementia?  Michael Bower, of the Alzheimer's Association, Western & Central Washington State Chapter, advises: this isn't the time to dig in your heels in "Remember the Alamo" fashion, shouldering the whole load.  Ditto if your parent's spouse is the caregiver, and you're helping out.

"Take 'No' out of your vocabulary," she told caregivers at the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell, Washington. "Practice 'Yes.'"

How does that translate into practical terms?  Bower, an Education Coordinator and daughter of a mother with dementia, offers the following ways to grow a support system.

1.  In your purse, pocket or planner, keep a list of tasks others can do for you.  Your list might include doing the grocery shopping, vacuuming the house or watching your parent for an afternoon so the caregiver can get a break, etc.  There are two reasons for doing this, Bower says.  "If you keep saying 'No,' they'll quit offering.  When you really need help later, they won't be there. Another reason to ask for help early is to get your loved one used to other people helping."

2. Educate yourself on the disease and other family members about the disease, including those far away.  They can help you with specific tasks when they visit, and can do others from afar.  Many out-of-state children take over finances for their parent with dementia, for example.  They can do preliminary online research for care providers. The more involved they become, the more they'll understand the work you do.

3.  Consider joining a local support group.  Many are sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association.  Being in a support group can help you deal with the emotions of caregiving, and offer ideas on coping.  I've walked by a support group at Warm Beach Senior Community many times.  Even with the closed door, the laughter was audible, as people shared moments which were humorous only to others who experience similar moments day after day.  Laughter is great medicine.

If your parent has dementia, can you think of other ways to grow your support system?
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