As individuals retire or age into Medicare, their insurance situation can change dramatically. There are a multitude of options open to those with Medicare. The terms are different, the prices are different, the products offered are dramatically different each year.
The purpose of this column is to give those who are eligible for Medicare, or soon to be eligible for Medicare, some understanding of their insurance options and how it could impact their health and finances.
These questions and answers are meant as a guide to help you understand the complex questions you are now thinking about. Each individual's specific situation may create a different solution. You shouldn't necessarily do what your friends, family and neighbors do.
Q: I am taking care of my spouse and am getting overwhelmed with all that I need to do. What can I do to get help?
A: The timing of your question is great. On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Warner Place on the Lutheran Campus, I will be speaking about caring for others and options for services.
First, thank you for doing all you do. This job is a big responsibility. It also usually doesn't start with a sudden health change. It often starts with one spouse doing a little more and then a little more, gradually increasing to taking on most of the chores and responsibilities.
There are situations where the need for caregiving happens suddenly, like with a stroke, heart attack, fall or broken bone. With these sudden occurrences, there usually is health insurance coverage for some of the help needed at first. This coverage is short lived, but it often helps us move into a more comprehensive plan.
When there is a gradual shift of responsibility, it is not as easy to figure out solutions. Often people don't realize they need help until they are knee deep in stress, feelings of frustration, and overwhelmed about what to do.
My recommendation is always, "Get help." Don't wait until you are in crisis to look for options. Ask for help from the people who offer. When someone says, "Call if there is anything I can do ..." say, "Actually there is, could you ..."
You fill in the blank. Do you need help grocery shopping, paying bills, running errands, vacuuming, washing dishes, doing laundry, going to doctor appointments?
Do you need someone to stay in the home with your family member while you do any of those things? Do you need a dinner brought to you once in a while, your garden weeded, lawn mowed, sidewalk shoveled or garbage taken to the curb on Tuesday mornings? There are so many things to be done. What about pictures hung, screen replaced, windows washed?
Asking for help or taking help does not mean you have failed. It actually means you are succeeding. You are carrying a lot of responsibility, so why not take a little help when it is offered. You are definitely a "doer," and you have a hard time letting someone else "do it" for you. Let go a little, and let others help. People offer to help because they want to help. It also gives them an opportunity to feel needed and useful.
Besides those people offering to help, there may be family who would help if you asked for it. Often they may be reluctant to give a bath, but maybe they would help with grocery shopping. or would rather help balance the checkbook or weed the flowers. Everyone has their own comfort zone, or things they like to do, so use them to help you out.
There are also people you can hire to do some of these things, such as errand services, landscaping and lawn maintenance companies. Maybe you could hire a neighbor or young adult down the street, who could help after school. Or look for someone affiliated with your church, your book club, bridge club or a friend of a friend. Ask others what they are doing, and how did they find help? This may lead to a solution for you as well.
If you are hiring someone to provide hands-on care for your family member, you definitely want someone who is trained and knows what they are doing. A home-care agency may be your best bet here. Some families hire someone they know, but you need to be sure that individual knows how to do what you are asking them to do. Home-care agencies do cost more money per hour usually, but you are paying for the fact that that agency did a background check and is responsible for what the person does while in your home. They also are in charge of scheduling that person to come to your home and finding a replacement if they can't come.
People often tell me a horror story about a "terrible" situation that someone they know ran into with a "bad aide or nurse." My response is that there are hundreds of aides working in hundreds of homes in our county every day. There are bound to be a few bad experiences, but not nearly as many bad experiences as there are good experiences. So, take a deep breath and call an agency to get some pricing and scheduling information. Ask to have a nurse or staff member come to the home to evaluate the needs and appropriate level of staff person required for the job.
You can call NY Connects to get a list of home care agencies in the area. The Office for the Aging also has a list of private providers that will work in your home. I do express a little bit of caution when talking about this private-provider list. This list includes hundreds of names, and it is your responsibility to check references and arrange for payment and scheduling. Using this list can be useful, but you need to understand that there is no guarantee about anyone on that list. It is a list of names of people who expressed a willingness to work for seniors in their home. This list says nothing about their credentials, credibility or training.
Remember, as a caregiver, you are probably taking care of that other person better than you are taking care of yourself. Don't get so overwhelmed that you get angry, frustrated and burned out.
There are two different support groups available in the area that may meet your needs. The first is the Caregiver Chat sponsored by Family Service of the Chautauqua Region. This group means the fourth Tuesday of the month from 12:15 to 1:45 p.m. The meeting is held at Christ First Church, on the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Buffalo Street in Jamestown. This group is run by a licensed social worker. The people who attend this group may be a huge source of support and help to you. They are doing what you are trying to do. Why not benefit from their experience and expertise?
The second group is the Caregiver Support Group offered by the Alzheimer's Association and run by Maggie Irwin who is a retired social worker. This group is held the second Tuesday of the month at the JAMA building (second floor) in Brooklyn Square. This group is designed to help those caregivers dealing with dementia. This may or may not be your situation. Either group offers lots of support and experience to help you.
Remember that on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. I will be talking about this and other related topics. Call 720-9122 to make a reservation for this talk.
Janell Sluga is a geriatric care manager certified and works for Senior Life Matters, a program of Lutheran Senior Housing, and has worked in Chautauqua County with seniors for more than 18 years. She is HIICAP (Health Insurance Information, Counseling & Assistance Program) counselor-trained by Office for the Aging. She does not sell insurance or represent any insurance company. She is an unbiased source of insurance and education to help seniors choose the best option for them.
You may submit questions to be answered in later columns to Janell Sluga at Senior Life Matters, 737 Falconer St., Jamestown, NY 14701, or call 716-720-9797, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember that not all questions can be answered in this format, but as many as can be, will be.