In some towns, caregivers can ease the financial burden of dementia care by getting aid from public programs for the elderly. But funding varies widely by county and state. That’s often because certain elected officials champion the interests of the elderly. In Carbon County PA, where I live, elders were helped for many years by Charles Getz, a county commissioner who just retired from public office. I talked with Mr. Getz to learn how and why he supported elder programs.
Although Mr. Getz owns several private businesses — including a horse farm and a bus company — he spent much of his life in public service. In 1977 he won his first election as a local township supervisor. He was later elected to office as a county commissioner. Though he won his final election in November 2011, he chose to retire before serving his term. Mr. Getz felt that the mood during his final campaign season was nasty and divisive, so he opted to retire before a negative political environment could disrupt the quality of his family life.
Mr. Getz became a champion of services for seniors partly because he had been raised to respect the elderly. He attended a one-room school house for his first years of elementary education and spent a lot of time with older people who shared knowledge he came to value. Mr. Getz was also deeply affected by the experience of looking after his own mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. With the help of his wife and short weekly visits from a nursing aide, they cared for his mother at their home until the end of her life at age 86. Getz was also distressed by the economic plight of elders in his district. When seniors submitted applications to enter Weatherwood, a county-funded home for the aged, they were required to declare their annual earnings. Mr. Getz was shocked at the tiny income on which many elders survived.
During the annual county budgeting process, Mr. Getz’ advocacy for elder care funding was aided by the director of the county’s Agency on Aging. She was zealous in her efforts to educate officials about the need for services and she took steps to cuts costs whenever possible. It was wise, Getz felt, to fund services that helped seniors live safely in their homes for a long time. Many residents in his district had worked hard in coal mines or mills and bought homes in tight-knit communities with strong support networks. Programs that helped them stay at home also cost much less than publicly-funded nursing homes.
Today the number of elderly residents in Carbon County continues to rise. I asked Mr. Getz if he felt the county was prepared for the rapid growth of the elderly population. He says, “The network of services and providers is strong” but “elected officials will be forced to make hard choices” if the current trend of cutting taxes and public services continues. Eventually, he says, programs “will reach a point where costs cannot be cut further” and needs will not diminish. He feels that the plight of those who have worked hard all their lives should not be neglected. While in office, Mr. Getz listened to constituents when they spoke to him about urgent issues and programs they valued. He believes that government functions best when all branches (local, state and federal) work together. So the bottom line on funding for elder programs is this: To protect public programs that help your loved one — or help you as a caregiver — you must share your views with all candidates running for office during election season.
On this St. Patrick’s weekend, we seen green everywhere — even in the new leaves on the trees. But if you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, you’re probably preoccupied with a different kind of green — the U.S. dollar variety which can be consumed very quickly by dementia care. The next few articles on this site will discuss some factors that may help you stretch your resources.
Every day I thank the moon and stars that my mom planned her financial future with so much care. She was not a wealthy person, but she worked hard all her life and maximized her retirement savings. As her power of attorney, I feel that it’s my job to be a good steward of her resources and — with my sister’s help — I keep trying to anticipate her future needs as we manage current ones. A few basic factors can make all the difference between balanced financial management and disaster.
1) Long Term Care Policies — Our Mom bought a good one through AARP a long time ago. Thank heaven for that! We have been able to use those resources to pay for adult day services and the occasional caregiver break for me. These funds allowed us to provide her with very good care at minimal cost for nearly two years. The same amount of money would have purchased just three months of care in a private nursing home. If dementia runs in your family, I suggest that you do some research on these policies now and consider buying one for yourself. But be sure you check out the fine print on benefit payments before you sign a payment agreement. If your loved one already has a policy, shop around and see what programs and services are covered. Do some projections to ballpark the long term costs.
2) Get the best, most specific diagnosis. The hardest aspect of financial planning is uncertainty over the duration of the disease. If your loved one has a straightforward case of Alzheimer’s, you may be providing care for a long time. You’ll need to forecast how much and what kind of care you want to buy. Other types of dementia, however, often have a shorter course of development, but may need more intensive services. The only way you can plan well is by getting a diagnosis that is specific enough to help you predict the symptomatic path of the disease. If you are just working with a family physician, you might want to start looking for more specialized diagnostic services at a regional Memory Center. It’s worth the effort to get a more detailed diagnosis. Medicare will usually cover diagnostic visits to a specialized dementia doctor. (But always check first!)
3. Settle your family business. If you are a member of a family — and who isn’t? — then you know that no matter how much people love each other, there are often disagreements about assets, who will control them, and how they should be used. Too many times people carry childhood grudges into adulthood. And families keep adding members all the time (grandchildren, in-laws, ex-in-laws, etc.) so there is literally no end to the potential number of disagreements that can be triggered by asset questions. Now is the perfect time to call a truce. And ENFORCE it! The more you can get family members to agree around a plan of care, the better off you’ll be. Get everyone to collect information about nursing homes, home-based care, and regional care options as a group. Then sit down and share the information. If decisions are made in haste by one person, some family members may get embittered because they’ve been left out of the process. Try to find your common ground before the disease backs you into a corner.
The most important thing you can do as a family is work together on behalf of those you love. Property has a value that is vital to the care equation — but love is all you have left once that property is gone. Don’t squander it!