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How to Keep Dignity in the Lives of our Aging Family

a caregiver helps an old man get up from the couch with a walker

What we visualize and our parents have in mind are often two different things for how they’d like to live as they advance in years.  While visiting a friend’s mother I was impressed at how the dining room and reception area resembled a five star hotel even though it was a senior assisted living community.  She enjoyed the surroundings because it echoed how she had lived.  We’ll probably never know just how much it took our parents to raise us and give us that secure feeling that everything was taken care of. We do want to see our parents have a smooth transition to their later years. Whether that means bringing in help so they can stay at home in familiar surroundings, staying with you or having them find a pleasant environment they would find stimulating with other like-minded seniors.


Speaking of five star surroundings, there was a scene in Downton Abbey (the recent PBS series) that touched many of us: When Mrs. Hughes thought she had a serious illness (in part III) and Lady Grantham assured her that she would be taken care of, would always have a place with them and could stay at Downton with her family as long as necessary.  We were all touched by this. What a kind assurance to be cared for and given security when you need it most. You may say it’s easy for Downton Abby aristocrats to have dignity; they have enough assets and servants to smooth over worries.


Easy to have dignity when a robust bank account buffers you.  Really the cost of care is skyrocketing, as the Time magazine article March 2013 edition calls the cost of health care ‘a bitter pill’.  The article didn’t even touch on elder care, assisted living or nursing care.  When it comes to our loved ones, can we offer that same level of dignity and security for them to be well cared for with nothing to worry about come what may?  Even if the environment they choose is more casual we still need to explore the options and probable costs.


In one case a husband and wife * Marsha and George had a second master suite made when they built their home in anticipation of their parents future needs to live with them.  As it turned out they wanted to stay in the city they had lived in all their lives and only came for visits.  This meant traveling to and from every year to check on them.  According to the Huffington Post the average spent on travel to care for elderly loved ones is upwards of $8,000 per year.


As much as you may try to anticipate the needs and desires of your family members all the professional advice is urging communication early on before challenges in independent living arise. Open a dialogue about the future and know that you have options such as in-home care, including companionship, homemaking services, personal assistance, nursing care, assisted living and more.  That in itself is comforting and empowering.  Faced with caring for our relatives is not so simple today. Especially those who live far away.


by Christine Meinhart

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