What’s a boomer to do?

Sandi Scholnick was reduced to tears – again. Her 92-year-old mother, Pauline Lecker, had been living at the Rose Schnitzer Manor at Cedar Sinai Park for 5½ years, and, despite her encroaching Alzheimer’s, the situation had been ideal. Then her mother’s condition began to deteriorate day by day rather than month by month. It was clear that the time was approaching when her mother would need to move to a facility with a higher level of care, but where was the right care? Could they afford it? Would her mother be happy?

Sandi did exhaustive Internet research and asked everyone she knew and still could not put her finger on clear options. The financial ramifications were scary and the emotional strain on her was crippling. As much as she needed answers, she also needed relief.

“I had to get out from under this tremendous burden,” Sandi says, “so I could move from ‘woe is me’ and focus on what is best for my mother.”

Sandi isn’t alone. Whether you are a senior weighing your Medicare options or an adult trying to find a nursing home for a frail parent, there is almost too much information out there. Much of it is too generic to be helpful, as Sandi found on her Internet search. There’s no app that will filter for the right level of care, price, location and “feel.” Just as important, no website or brochure provides the emotional support families need.

Cedar Sinai Park has stepped in to fill that void with its newly revamped Elder’s Family Learning Initiative. Once a series of classes for aging seniors and their adult children, it has evolved to small round-table workshops designed to give both specific information and TLC.

“We guide people through the process,” says Kimberly Fuson, chief program officer at CSP, “but the format does much more than that because, for these families, it’s an emotional roller coaster.” In the new model, a small group of adult children meet with experienced social workers who explain the choices and resources and offer ongoing support. Experts include David Molko, senior outreach and emergency services director at Jewish Family & Child Service; Sarah Wheeler, social services director at Robison Jewish Health Center; and Leslie Sacks, Robison’s assistant administrator. Just as important, though, the adult children meet with each other.

“One person started to talk and I burst into tears,” Sandi remembers. The others were also emotional. “Some were frustrated, at their wits’ end, almost angry.” There were plenty of tears. For Sandi, it was wonderful. “I’m not alone. I don’t have to be embarrassed that I don’t know what to do or be ashamed about my emotions. I have options and I have a support system.”

Fuson wants to expand the program to target adults who don’t need to make decisions today or next week. Sandi was fortunate in that her mother was getting excellent care at the Rose Schnitzer Manor and didn’t have to move immediately, but many nursing home admissions are sudden when, for example, a parent breaks a hip. Being informed and being prepared can be empowering.

“People don’t want to think about aging, and so they don’t discuss it with their family,” she says. “We want to catch people when they are healthy and can have these conversations with parents, spouses and children. This could also be a part of preventative care, such as preparing an advanced directive so there is less last-minute decision making.”

And less stress.

“My tears of being overwhelmed were turned to tears of relief that help is here,” says Sandi. “These are my partners and my friends. It’s been wonderful.”

CHOOSING A SENIOR CARE FACILITY

Visit the facility in advance and ask lots of questions. Here are a few sample questions:
• Do staff interact well with residents?
• Are residents participating in activities and exercise?
• Do the residents have the same caregivers on a daily basis?
• Does the staff respond quickly to calls for help?
• Do residents get to choose from a variety of menu items?

    For more detailed lists, visit the links below:

www.nadsa.org/consumers/site-visit-checklist/
www.medicare.gov/files/nursing-home-checklist.pdf
apps.state.or.us/Forms/Served/de9033.pdf (pages 11-20)
www.aarp.org (includes many informational resources)

For more information about Elders’ Family Learning Initiative, visit www.cedarsinaipark.org
or call 503-535-3000 and ask for Sarah Wheeler

Liz Rabiner Lippoff is a Portland freelance writer and a medical marketing specialist at Liz, ink: www.LizInk.biz.

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