In October, my mother’s health suddenly failed. Prior to that, she lived completely independently in our family home that she shared with my father until his death five years ago. A sharp 80-year-old, Mom still handled her bills, managed her household, drove her car and operated the television remote control and her telephone like a seasoned professional. While not the most tech savvy, she enjoyed playing games and scanning Facebook on her iPad and was generally happy and healthy. As Mom’s local support system, my husband and I have spent countless hours in hospitals, doctor’s offices, testing facilities, rehabilitation hospitals and, now, assisted living facilities trying to help my Mom adjust to her “new normal”. No longer independent or even able to walk, Mom remains without a diagnosis. She “passes” every test and here, but 4 months later, we still don’t know what’s wrong.
Mom’s story is not unique. Since October, I have done a lot of reflecting about what we could have done/should have done and want to share a few of my lessons learned:
- Refusing to plan for a sudden change is NOT A PLAN! Mom was adamant that she was going to remain in her home until the day she died. Her support system scrambled to handle all of the planning at a time of tremendous stress. The non-profit organization “A Place for Mom” (www.aplaceformom.com) was very helpful finding a new living situation.
- Think ahead to who will handle your finances if your health suddenly fails. We struggled to get added to accounts, even with Powers of Attorney in place. Make a list of your regular bills and how they are paid. My mother had four credit cards and several bank accounts at four different institutions, some auto-pay and some not. Write down a list of logins, passwords and online resources. Do not forget to share the password to get onto your computer or iPad!
- Share the name and contact information for your Primary Care Physician (PCP). In addition, it is incredibly important to establish a good relationship with him/her. The PCP is the quarterback of your medical team who will conduct future tests and coordinate ongoing care. Mom did not have a good connection with her PCP and only visited annually with the office nurse practitioner to update prescriptions. In situations similar to Mom’s, having an MRI is normal, if not standard. Due to a lack of communication between the hospital and her PCP, it took Mom 2 ½ months to get hers.
- Have a current list of your medications and make certain your I.D./driver’s license, current Medicare card and any other insurance cards are readily available. These items are among the first things a hospital needs.
- Plan for your pets! Mom had a small dog and a cat. The plan for their care was one of the more time-consuming tasks we had. Discuss who will take your pets if you are unable to care for them and be sure to share the information for your veterinarian along with a current shot record.
- Emergency alert systems are only helpful if you use them! Mom had Life Alert but she was not wearing her lanyard. In fact, we discovered she tried to return the system, annoyed by the recurring cost. However, these systems come with a strict 2-year contract, which can only be cancelled with a death certificate or signed letter from her current facility that a similar system is being provided.
- Medicare benefits are complicated and out-of-pocket care is expensive. Mom is currently in an assisted living facility with top-notch care. The monthly cost is $11,000, none of which is covered by Medicare or Tri-Care for Life (her military Medicare supplement). It is important to know the Medicare rules as hospitals and facilities follow Medicare guidelines first, regardless of the supplemental insurance. Be sure your children know about your long-term-care insurance coverage (information is found in your annual review packet). Last but not least, be sure they have our information so we can be of help.
While we certainly hope you will never have to deal with the challenges my mother currently faces, they are not unique. Medical breakthroughs have greatly lengthened life expectancies and with that, have created additional challenges. Mom’s life changed in an instant with no known cause and even with a family of Planners, we found ourselves unprepared. Please do yourself and your loved ones a favor and think ahead!