Caring for the elderly is a difficult task. It is physically demanding and emotionally challenging. The closer you are to the elderly person, the more difficult you may find the job. It’s hard watching someone who used to take care of you need more and more help as age and disease begin to take their toll. And, on top of the emotional toll caregiving can take, many people provide unpaid care for a loved one, which can negatively impact them financially. This is a common problem today, with over 34.2 million unpaid caregivers in 2018. If you’re already caring for a loved one or will soon be starting the caregiving journey, read on for the top five things you should know about elder care law.
Elder Care Law Basics for Caregivers
Power of Attorney
There are legal issues associated with caring for an elderly person who can no longer care for himself or herself, such as how to handle medical needs when they are incapacitated by dementia or another disability. It is important to have a power of attorney to provide care for the person. This will allow you to make important medical decisions when a loved one can no longer make those decisions for themself.
The power of attorney can also grant financial access, allowing you to keep medical and other bills paid. Whoever is chosen for the power of attorney should be absolutely trustworthy and should have your loved one’s best interest at heart. Gaining power of attorney is a legal process, which you can learn more about on the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging website.
A living will is a document that outlines one’s wishes regarding what happens if a medical situation arises that causes them to become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for oneself, such as regarding a needed procedure. The living will also outlines what one’s preferred situation will be if they ever need to be placed on life support, including the length of time that they want to remain on ventilation. Because the gravity of this type of situation is so great, it is important to put a living will in place now, before a major medical problem arises.
Decisions regarding life support and quality of life are best made when everyone is calm to avoid the drama of having to make those decisions at the hospital later. When this important decision is made ahead of time, it will be easier to follow through with it when the time comes. The emotions and drama of the moment will be removed, allowing you to follow through with what your loved one would really want. This comprehensive guide can help you learn how to create a living will, or help your older loved one write theirs.
There are public benefits available that can help cover the cost of care. These include Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. However, receiving the benefits is not as simple as filling out a form and waiting for a check. The programs are complicated, and it’s a good idea to educate yourself about these programs so that you know how to help your loved one plan for their future. You can research governmental assistance programs online by clicking the resource you need on the linked page and searching for your state.
The government will look back on asset transfers and sales for several years, so waiting until it’s time for assistance and then moving assets into someone else’s name won’t work. Long-Term Care Insurance programs are available, however, to help pay for the time in between when financial assistance is required and when the government will actually provide benefits.
Nursing Homes Not Required
There are many wonderful elder care agencies that specialize in providing individual elder care. Unless your loved one requires ongoing, specialized care, he or she will probably qualify for in-home care. The great allure of these services is that your loved one can stay in the home that he or she loves, allowing them to maintain some feeling of independence.
Standard of Care
Elder care law does set a certain standard of care. If you decide to take care of your loved one on your own and are unable to meet those standards, Adult Protective Services could step in and force you to put your loved one in a nursing home. Whether the elderly person is in a facility or cared for at home, doctors and public servants alike are constantly watching for signs of physical or mental abuse. If there is a belief that an elderly person is being robbed financially, abused, intimidated or otherwise harassed by a caregiver then they can – and will – call the authorities.
Not all harm occurs intentionally. Neglect can be just as damaging as abuse and is just as serious. Take the time to make a serious assessment of your skills, time, and patience level before deciding whether you will be the primary caregiver. You may decide it is truly in everyone’s best interest to hire an elder care provider.
It is important to understand the laws and all the ramifications that come along with elder care management. Every state has different laws, so before making decisions about moving your loved one, or allowing a family member to move in with them, speak to an elder care law attorney in your area. Know what the laws are so you can make informed decisions that are truly in the elderly person’s best interest.
Tips for Caregivers
Caring for your aging loved one can be a challenge on many levels. Navigating the legal system adds an additional element of potential frustration in the already-hectic life of a caregiver. Here’s a list of tips to help you improve your aging loved one’s quality of life as well as your own
Find a Support Network
There are caregiver support groups in most communities. Look to your community for day services that could offer respite support for you as well as social support for your loved one who faces the risk of social isolation. Visit the National Caregiver Action Network to find support in your area for whatever your situation is.
Focus On Managing Your Own Wellness
With so many responsibilities and only 24 hours in a day, it can be hard to juggle caregiving and managing your own health, especially with many caregivers having a full-time job in addition to their family responsibilities. It might be difficult to imagine how to find more time in the day, but the simple truth is that you won’t be able to help your loved ones or enjoy your life if your health suffers due to your responsibilities. If you find yourself overwhelmed with your caregiving tasks, try searching for an online support group who can try to help you find solutions to the challenges you’re experiencing.
Learn as Much as You Can About Aging
Education for aging care is readily available online, and many communities offer regular classes that cover important aging and healthcare topics. Check out the Red Cross website, where there are a variety of classes such as CPR and first aid for adults. You can also take a free online course in the topic of your choice, such as those provided by the Caregiver Action Network.
Visit Healthcare Providers with Your Loved One
Knowledge is power, so when it’s your responsibility to take care of someone as their health declines, make sure you have a strong line of connection with their doctors. Bring a list of questions with you and any medications and supplements they take. Remember to let your loved one answer for themselves when the doctor asks questions, even if they are suffering from dementia or memory loss- you can provide clarification after if needed. You can also ask the doctor for referrals to local senior service agencies.
Reach Out to Experts
Figuring out elder care law can be a daunting task, and everyone’s situation is unique. When faced with issues like estate planning when someone you are caring for is diagnosed with dementia, find a lawyer in your area that specializes in elder law. Many offices provide advocacy services that are designed simply to direct people to the resources they need, and some states have organizations dedicated to providing pro-bono work to low-income elders. You can also visit the American Bar Association website for links to elder law resources. For Medicare issues, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to speak with a volunteer Medicare specialist.
Look Into Financial Assistance Programs
There are approximately 43.5 million unpaid family caregivers in the US. If you are a family caregiver, there are federal and state programs that may be able to assist you with paying for aging services, whether it be through a grant or a free or low-cost program in your community. Find your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about what senior services are available in your area and if there are any assistance programs you might qualify for.
Other Senior Care Options
While it might be the most economic option, being an in-home caregiver isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, there are many options available for professional senior care that can provide temporary and ongoing support to families.
Home Health Care Aides
According to Genworth.com, the average cost of a home health care aide is $23 an hour. In some places, the daily cost of a professional aide can be as low as $107 a day, such as in Louisiana. In other states, the costs can go as high as $191, which is the median daily cost in Washington and Minnesota. Home health care aides are well-educated in aging issues and able to compassionately assist seniors with medical needs and activities of daily living. The educational requirements needed to become a home health care aide vary depending on your location. Any company receiving federal Medicaid or Medicare funding needs to hire people who have completed formal education programs specialized for senior care.
Continuum-of-Care Retirement Communities
A person’s needs tend to change, often dramatically, as they age. Continuum-of-care retirement communities, also known as CCRCs, are designed to provide housing and help with medical and personal care needs as they shift. Independent living options are provided in these communities with the option for residents to move into higher care levels, including nursing home care, often without needing to physically move from their chosen apartment. People can shift from independent care to assisted living and memory care as needed, and many facilities also offer on-site hospice services. When choosing a CCRC, be sure to ask about the types of care provided, and what happens if a resident has an unexpected healthcare need that the facility doesn’t provide for.
Each facility will have different fee schedules, so make sure to ask about the type of contract you would be signing, and what all of the ongoing and initial costs will be. Plans can include health care costs to be paid out of pocket or residents can have access to unlimited healthcare, though this type of plan is typically the most expensive option. CCRCs sometimes come with buy-in fees that can range from $10,000 to more than $500,000, with the funds being used to cover the cost of residency in the event that a senior’s resources become depleted and they can no longer pay for their care.
Assisted Living Facilities
An assisted living facility (ALF) is a residential community where elders receive help with all of their personal care as needed, and have access to some medical services. An ALF typically provides for all meals and snacks, and facilities that accept residents who pay with Medicare or Medicaid are bound to strict dietary requirements in their meal planning. Licensed nurses and trained, background checked caregivers provide around-the-clock care with routine check-ups from the nurses to ensure all care needs are being met.
Assisted living facilities often charge a monthly fee that includes the cost of room and board and personal care services in addition to a standard meal plan. Extra services are usually available for an added fee. According to research, the average cost of assisted living is $4,051 a month across the US. Typically, Medicare and Medicaid do not help cover the cost of living in an assisted living facility, though there may be waivers for personal care services that can be used while living in an ALF.
Adult Day Care
Many seniors wish to remain in their original homes as they age, using family and community support to maintain their health and quality of life. Those living with dementia face a higher burden, and adequate socialization is easily neglected when seniors have a harder time getting out of the house or having the motivation to visit the places they used to love to go.
If you or someone you know is an unpaid caregiver of someone with dementia, please look into the senior services provided in your city. There may be free or low-cost adult day care programs available to family caregivers that allow for up to five days a week of social interactions for seniors and careful monitoring by well-trained community center staff.
Respite care is a temporary caregiving service designed to provide relief to overworked family caregivers with care from specially-trained staff including registered nurses. A respite program can be as short as an afternoon stay with a registered respite nurse, or it can be a week or longer in a respite care facility. Respite services may be covered by Medicare, if the person is on hospice, for up to five days. You can search for a provider near you online if you are in need of respite services.