Taking Care of Mom and Dad: Home care vs. assisted living

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Taking care of mom and dad has become a reality for one out of eight Americans.

Part of what is now called the Sandwich Generation, many of us are taking care of our parents and their homes, along with our own kids and homes.

Last night we began our three-part special report by talking to The Area 2 Agency on Aging, Real Services, Inc., about the resources you might not know are available for in-home care, to assisted living and nursing homes.

Real Services can help you navigate this difficult road and it's better to get ahold of them sooner rather than later.

Some families have the luxury of taking care of mom and dad in their homes or can help them stay in their own homes. For others, especially those who work, assisted living is the solution.

For Linda "Z" of Mishawaka, moving her 91-year-old mother, Edna, into her home five years was a necessity.

Edna has Alzheimer's and diabetes and doctors told Linda her mom could no longer live alone. Linda feels lucky she can do so, "If I had to be working I wouldn't have been able to do it, but I'm fortunate."

Linda gets her mom up and moving in the morning, Edna reads the paper and Linda makes her keep track of what she eats during the day. The two also visit Edna's 81-year-old sister in assisted living three times a week.

While thankful she can care for her mom at home, Linda says the ongoing support she gets from groups that meet for free at the Alzheimer's and Dementia Services have been a Godsend.

Linda admits that some days are more stressful than others, saying, "You never know. Sometimes every hour is new." When asked how much the support groups help, "Oh tremendously. I mean I sit there and listen to other people and i sit there and say, 'Oh, I don.'t have it so bad.' "

But getting a caregiver 24/7 is not easy. Edna, like many with dementia has short term memory issues but recalls vividly working at Mishawaka's Tivoli Theatre as a teen, taking part in beauty pageants on stage. She happily shared pictures of her younger years at the Tivoli.

Linda has heard the stories many times and just prays she'll never have to make the decision to move her mom into a nursing home. And Linda say visiting her support groups help her focus on taking one day at a time, saying, "You just have to keep in mind that this is a temporary situation."

Across town in South Bend, Diane Stewart is visiting her mom, Kathyrn at Sterling House, the assisted living facility Kathryn has called home for a year and a half.

A place where she spend a lot of time knitting for other residents, "I'm making, it's kind of a lap robe so that they fit into wheel chairs."

Like many of us, Diane works full time and did her best to keep her mom home for as long as possible. Diane says, "Mom lived by herself in a pretty large home near Notre Dame. She had stairs to go down to do laundry and go upstairs to take a bath or go to bed at night. She found she couldn't cook for herself safely, her health an interaction with peers was declining rapidly and eventually it was required that she needed 24/7 care."

Real Services suggests talking to our parents early about where they want to be when the can no longer live at home. My brothers and I, along with mom, visited several places and she decided Sterling House felt most like home.

Diane and her mom did the same and they too chose Sterling House.

And like most of us, Diane says she felt her share of guilt, but that passed as Kathryn's health improved. Diane says, "At first I really felt bad about mom coming here because these are strangers taking care of mom, but once we got here and she got acclimated and I got acclimated it's not like strangers anymore. It's like extended family. Health, safety and well being for me is a priority for mom."

Joan Cuson of Real Services says our idea of assisted living is changed because the baby boom generation is demanding more. "I think the assisted living that are popping up are the perfect response to that kind of need.".

Sterling House Executive Director Justin Kimbrell agrees that perceptions are changing, saying, "They're able to have their own apartment. It is a lot different than a strict nursing home. Assisted living has stepped up to fill that void."

And not just meals and activities to keep residents engaged

But know this, The state of Indiana has defined assisted living in two ways. To use the term assisted living, a facility must file with the Family and Social Services Agency Division on Aging.

Once registered as a "Housing with Services Establishment" or HSE it can provide a home with three meals a day and some additional services.

But if a community provides residential, on site nursing care and gives medications out, it must be licensed with the state. So it's important to know the difference and read the contract before signing on.

Director of Nursing Services at Sterling House explains, "We have what we call the Medical Model here and that means we are able to do a lot more things with our residents and keep them until the end of life. Especially those with memory care loss, changes or declining in medical care."

Our area has a number of assisted living communities that may stand along or have combined environments from apartments to comprehensive nursing care and Cuson of Real Services says they can help you find the right fit for mom and dad.

May assisted living facilities are private pay, but have waivers for veterans and their spouses. A smaller number take Medicaid waivers. Again, Real Services can help you maneuver what might work for your loved one.

Diane says for her mom, Kathryn, assisted living was absolutely the right decision, "I knew that she needed to be out of her house and into a place that would take care of her. She gets more peer interaction, mental health, and she gets up and walks around more. She has a destination. It's nice, just nice."

And my mom, Bonnie, tells me and my brothers the same thing, "It's not home but they are good to me here."

Until falling and breaking her hip yesterday, for which she had successful surgery and is recovering, her health has improved, she is around people her own age, she's thriving and feels safe.

If you need help, Real Servies is the go-to place to help you with all the issues you are facing.Their services are usually free or based on a person's ability to pay.

And also look into Hospice. Your parent does not need to be dying to benefit from some of the services they can provide in the home. And if your parent is beyond assisted living or living at home, Real Services can also help you find the proper nursing home.

Caregiving doesn't always include mom and dad. Tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. we highlight a woman whose husband was diagnosed at 59 with Alzheimer's Disease. She took care of him lovingly in their home for ten years and we'll share their extraordinary story.