Senior Health

Financial Assistance for Assisted Living in Texas

The following post contains helpful resource information from assistedliving.org/Texas

 

STAR+PLUS
STAR+PLUS is a multifaceted program which provides reimbursement for people seeking assisted living. The STAR+PLUS Home- and Community-Based Waiver is a part of the program that helps seniors who are assessed as nursing home-eligible continue receiving their Medicaid benefits without being institutionalized. Eligible applicants are reimbursed for services that promote independence, such as assistance with personal grooming tasks, basic mobility, and caregiver respite. Services may be provided by direct care aides at an assisted living facility or by home health contractors.

Who is Eligible?
The STAR+PLUS program has absorbed many Texas Medicaid plans and services, so understanding whether you qualify can be difficult. This is due to the many caveats that may apply if you are eligible for multiple state programs under the STAR+PLUS umbrella, or for other programs like Supplemental Security Income. Eligibility requirements are listed on the Texas Health and Human Serviceswebsite, though understanding what you may qualify for is likely to require the assistance of a dedicated case worker.

Eligible applicants are people who need an institutional level of care and qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid applicants over 65 should have a maximum income of $2,250 and countable assets of no more than $2,000, though eligibility criteria varies with marital status, level of assistance needed, and other factors.

How to Apply
This waiver is a non-entitlement program, which means that it can only support a limited number of active participants. Applying for the waiver is likely to result in one’s name being added to a waiting list for enrollment, so it is advised that interested parties sign up as far in advance as possible. Applicants are encouraged to seek qualified counseling to help them navigate the enrollment process and eligibility requirements of STAR+PLUS. To begin the application process, contact The Office of the Ombudsman at (866) 566-8989, or consult the Texas Area Agencies on Aging by calling (800) 252-9240. Find your local Area Agency on Aging by consulting the directory in this guide.

The Community First Choice (CFC) Program
The Community First Choice program is a lot like the STAR+PLUS HCBS waiver in what it offers, except that CFC is a Medicaid entitlement program, meaning there are no maximum recipient caps and no waiting lists for enrollment. Community First Choice offers Medicaid reimbursement to low-income assisted living residents for the provision of assistance with activities of daily living, such as personal grooming tasks, mobility, and basic house chores. People already enrolled to receive other Medicaid waiver services may elect to switch to the Community First Choice Program.
Services provided under the CFC Program may include:
• Personal assistance with activities of daily living
• Skills education for self-care and independent living
• Emergency response services
• Training for support staff management
• Consumer-directed service options

Who is Eligible?
Applicants for the Community First Choice program must qualify for Medicaid and must be assessed by a physician as nursing home-eligible. Coverage of personal care services through this program is provided based on an assessment of which services an individual requires.

How to Apply
Interested parties can apply online at YourTexasBenefits.com, or call 2-1-1 for guidance and consultation. Your local Area Agency on Aging can also help with Medicaid and non-Medicaid applications. To initiate an assessment and determine your eligibility, consult the directory in this guide to find a nearby Area Agency on Aging.

PACE
Serving the cities of El Paso, Amarillo, and Lubbock, PACE is the Texas branch of the national Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. It is a Medicaid-administered program intended to provide total coverage of all medical and personal care needs for especially frail seniors, helping them to avoid institutionalization. This program reimburses for a broad array of services that may be provided by assisted living facility staff or home health contractors.
PACE provides these services:
• Personal care services and home healthcare
• Adult day healthcare
• Medical care
• Coverage for all necessary prescription drugs
• Hospital and nursing home care when necessary
• Social services
• Caregiver respite

Who is Eligible?
• Individuals aged 55 and older who are nursing home-eligible
• People who live in an area covered by PACE services
• Those who can live safely at home or in an assisted living community
Private payment is accepted for individuals not receiving Medicare or Medicaid and fees for these participants will not exceed average costs for nursing home care in Texas. However, space in the program is limited, and preference is given to applicants who have greater medical and financial needs. Most recipients of PACE are dually eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. All applicants must have family or caregivers who can provide limited support during short intervals of respite.

How to Apply
To find out if you’re eligible and to learn about what PACE offers, contact your local HHS office by dialing 2-1-1, or 7-1-1 for the hearing impaired. You can also consult your local Area Agency on Aging for more details and application assistance. Find your local Area Agency on Aging by searching the directory included in this guide.

More Ways to Finance Assisted Living
Some additional ways to finance assisted living costs include:

Free Assisted Living Resources in Texas
Texas is home to hundreds of nonprofits and government resource providers that assisted living residents can look to for added support. Some of these organizations, like the Area Agencies on Aging, operate in every state across the country, while others are dedicated only to specific regions in the state of Texas. All of these services are free to use. However, some organizations listed here may have income and health-related requirements intended to preserve resources for those who are most in need.

The Aging & Disability Resource Center
This center was opened by the HHS as part of the national No Wrong Door initiative, and it is intended to streamline public access to resources and information concerning long-term services and supports. The Aging & Disability Resource Center helps to reduce confusion and facilitate access to care for long-term care recipients in all 254 counties of Texas. Contact them by calling (855) YES-ADRC, or (855) 937-2372. Find out more online by visiting hhs.texas.gov.

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
Most states have a Long-Term Care Ombudsman program which organizes volunteers to act as advocates for recipients of LTC benefits. Ombudsmen periodically visit residents of ALFs and nursing homes to verify the quality of their care and environment, field complaints and concerns, help them protect their rights, and keep them in touch with the service providers and authorities they may rely on. The services of ombudsmen are always free and confidential, and their organizations avoid conflicts of interest by remaining unaffiliated with service providers and government agencies. The Texas LTC Ombudsman program can be reached via e-mail at ltc.ombudsman@hhsc.state.tx.us and toll-free at (800) 252-2412.

211 Texas
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission provides 211 Texas as an anonymous social service hotline with 25 information centers across the state. They are available to take calls 24/7, and can help citizens understand and gain information on any programs administered by Health and Human Services, which includes long-term care facilities like assisted living and other supports for seniors.
Reach 211 Texas by simply dialing 2-1-1, or visit them online at 211Texas.org.

Area Agencies on Aging
The AAA is a national, federally funded organization. It acts as a central agency, unifying hundreds of community outreach programs and supports for citizens over 60 years of age. Texas hosts 27 Area Agencies on Aging, making this a convenient resource for people in all regions of the state.

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How to take the worry out of providing long-distance care to seniors

By caringfromafar.com

Photo by Pexels

Are you taking up the role of caregiver for a parent or older loved one? Wondering how to provide that care when you live far away? Long-distance caregiving doesn’t have to be so stressful if you take care of the following essential steps.

Get Familiar with Your Loved One’s Medicare Options

The number one concern for seniors is their health, and the number one source of senior healthcare coverage is Medicare. If you are providing care for a loved one from afar, you need to spend some time making sure they have the best Medicare coverage for their situation. Learn the pros and cons of coverage and supplemental plans, as well as important deadlines.

Primarily, you both should know that the Annual Election Period for coverage started on October 15, and you have until December 7 to help your family member make their choices. This crucial enrollment period is the only time you can make changes to current plans, and the deadline is fast approaching, so sit down with a checklist so you can go over all the options in detail. Pick a time when you can visit in-person so that you can have your family member’s Medicare card, copies of the previous year’s medical bills, and a list of any pertinent healthcare information (provider names, prescriptions, etc.). If you can’t do this in-person, use a video call service to connect and have your loved one show or scan you copies of needed materials.

Make Sure Your Family Member Is Safe at Home

Did you know that falls send more seniors to the hospital than any other injury? More importantly, most serious falls happen at home when seniors live on their own. This statistic is not meant to make you feel guilty, but rather to stress the importance of making sure your loved one’s home is free of any fall hazards, both inside and out. If you can make a trip, take a walk around your loved one’s home and look out for issues that could cause them to slip or trip. Clutter can be a recipe for disaster, so make sure any random objects are safely stowed off the floor and out of the path of your family member.

Bathrooms are another sore spot in senior homes, so you may want to help your loved one make changes, such as installing grab bars or putting a seat in the shower. When you need to make these upgrades from afar, you’ll need to find a contractor you can trust. Check reviews online, or ask friends for referrals, so you can find reliable, affordable help to assist your senior loved one with these projects, as well as future issues they may have in their home.

Stay in Touch with a Local Network of Help

When you are providing care from a distance, there will likely come a day when your loved one will need some help and you may not be immediately available to assist them. This is why it is important to build rapport with any neighbors, friends, or community members who may be able to help your family member in their time of need. It’s a major step in effectively providing care for loved ones without adding more stress to your life.

Don’t be afraid to ask neighbors to check in with your parent or loved one, or at least let you know if there is cause for concern. This may include severe weather, odd behavior, or anything else out of the ordinary. Your network can help your loved one get prepared for emergencies, get help when needed, or simply connect with you. As an added layer of protection and connection, look into medical alert services for your parent as well.

Providing care to a senior loved one, when you do not live nearby, can be nerve-wracking. But if you can do some planning, connect with locals, and find ways to keep them safe at home, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of being an effective long-distance caregiver.

 

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Financial planning and Medicare

By Steven Merrell, Financial Planning: Let’s talk Medicare

If you are one of the 44 million Americans currently covered by Medicare, you probably know that Medicare’s annual open enrollment period just started. Between now and Dec. 7, you have the opportunity to make adjustments to your Medicare coverage.

Paying for health care is one of the biggest financial challenges many people face in retirement. If you are 65 or older, Medicare is probably an important part of your financial picture. However, if you are new to Medicare, you may be surprised by Medicare’s complexity and the gaps in your coverage.

You can choose between two general directions for your Medicare coverage: Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. Original Medicare, in turn, is divided into two parts. Part A covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facilities (when medically necessary), hospice care and home health care. Part B covers doctor visits and outpatient care and other medically necessary services like ambulance services, clinical research and durable medical equipment. Optional Part D covers prescription drugs and is purchased from private insurance companies.

Original Medicare does not cover everything. For example, while Part A covers hospitalization and skilled nursing facilities, it only covers acute care. If you need long-term care, also known as custodial care, Medicare will not cover it. Medicare also excludes most dental care, eye exams for prescription glasses, dentures, hearing aids and exams for fitting them, acupuncture and routine foot care. If you want to find out if your particular need is covered by Original Medicare, you can search for your item or service on the Medicare coverage website: www.medicare.gov/coverage.

Most people do not pay a premium for Part A, but they do pay a deductible of $1,340 for each benefit period and coinsurance for hospitalization. Part B premiums start at $134 per month but can be higher depending on your income. In addition, for Part B you will pay a deductible of $183 per year and coinsurance above that amount equal to 20 percent of the Medicare-approved charge for most doctor services, including the services provided by your doctors while you are in the hospital.

In a catastrophic scenario, there is no limit to the amount you can owe under Original Medicare. Consequently, many people purchase a supplemental policy, also known as Medigap insurance. Medigap insurance is issued by private companies, but the policies are standardized by law to comply with Medicare requirements. There are 10 standard Medigap policies available each with different coverage limits.

If you find this confusing, you are not alone. In fact, this confusion is why Medicare Advantage plans have become so popular in recent years. By law, Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide everything that is covered by Original Medicare. The only exception is hospice care, which continues to be provided by Original Medicare Part A.

Steven C. Merrell is an investment adviser and partner at Monterey Private Wealth Inc. in Monterey, CA. 

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5 advantages of early election of hospice benefits in assisted living and skilled nursing

Published in McKnight’s Senior Living by Rhea Go-Coloma, LMSW

For many, hospice care is associated with care received in the home. When provided early enough for residents in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, however, hospice care can provide important benefits for the resident and facility operator alike.

Hospice care, which is covered by Medicare and most private health insurance plans, eases pain and alleviates discomfort when a resident’s illness no longer is responding to treatment.

In fact, about one-third of assisted living residents receive end-of-life care at the community they have made their home. When residents become terminally ill, however, operators must provide care that may go beyond their capabilities.

When this happens, residents may be better served in a hospital or nursing home setting, but frequently it’s in the best interests of the resident to remain in the assisted living community. This is largely because residents have grown accustomed to the people and environment and feel the most at home.

When an assisted living community resident opts for hospice care, he or she also may be able to remain in the facility during the last months of life. This is best achieved when the assisted living community operator partners with an outside hospice provider. In this situation, it’s important for both organizations to work closely together to provide the best possible care for the resident.

Whether the hospice care is being provided in an assisted living community or nursing home, good communication between the family, staff, hospice staff and caregivers is important. Equally critical for success is early adoption of hospice care.

Early adoption of hospice makes all the difference

When adopted early, hospice care offers significant benefits for residents and families. Significantly, hospice healthcare specialists help residents and their families prioritize wishes and goals, creating a greater sense of ease and comfort.

Team-oriented hospice healthcare specialists work with the staff members of the assisted living community or nursing home to coordinate and plan care. Here’s a look at the five most important advantages of early election of hospice care for residents, families and facilities striving to meet the needs of these individuals:

Family support. Early involvement of an interdisciplinary team of hospice specialists helps families on many fronts: teaching family members how to care for the person who is ill, providing support and counseling to family and friends, offering education about the care process.

The hospice team also is there to help families clarify patient wishes, establish physician and patient relationships and balance family dynamics during this stressful time. Bottom line: hospice provides a way for residents to have a diverse group of committed professionals advocating for their needs.

Care goals. Hospice gives families the time they need to discuss goals of care, including an advance directive, a legal document that spells out end-of-life care ahead of time. The hospice team — including doctors, nurses, therapists, healthcare aides, clergy and social workers — addresses every aspect of a resident’s illness, with emphasis on controlling and reducing pain and discomfort. Team members provide symptom management and pain relief, increase quality of life and relieve patient suffering.

Family counseling. Guidance and support are a crucial feature of hospice, helping families deal with the range of emotions that surround this difficult time, offering guidance from social workers and chaplains. Hospice also offers bereavement and grief counseling after a loved one has passed, and it helps with some of the after-death tasks that need to be completed. Ultimately, choosing hospice care early makes end-of-life a calming and successful experience during a difficult time.

Dignity for the resident. Hospice offers the resident a chance to die with dignity. Hospice patients are not hooked up to loud machines, their vital signs are not constantly checked by medical personnel and they do not undergo invasive procedures to prolong life. It’s about respecting patient wishes.

By making arrangement to provide hospice care, operators of assisted living communities and nursing homes can make it possible for residents and families to focus on spending time with their loved one and not dealing with the red tape and medical procedures associated with hospital care.

 

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Suggestions for adult children caring for aging parents

Published in OA Online By Raylene Weaver, LPC of Centers for Children and Families

The Beatles will always be one of my favorite groups. One of their songs that has hit home with me while thinking about this particular article is, “When I’m Sixty-four”.

People want to be needed and appreciated especially when approaching a time in life when it’s easy to be disregarded or forgotten. The aging process can be stressful, causing some to suffer anxiousness and sadness. Several of my clients and friends have faced or are facing tough decisions that are affecting their parents and themselves. I would like to pass on a few suggestions regarding the physical, emotional, mental and financial aspects of AGING that might alleviate some of the stress that can definitely arise for all concerned.

A…ASK parents specific questions concerning their health. Do family members know their medical history, names of their doctors, any medications they might be taking or appointments they are scheduled on a regular basis? If on Medicaid or Medicare, do they also carry supplemental insurance? Are all financial papers, investments, bank account information, bill payment procedures, updated will, computer passwords and any other important documents or information easily accessible? Do they have a bereavement plan?

G…GUILTY feelings about wanting to be prepared by creating a plan for a parent’s future? Questions concerning the private aspects of their lives might seem like prying but this can hopefully be of some consolation for parents, knowing that they will be taken care of “when the time comes”. The objective for the children is to be “in the know” not to be “nosey”.

I…INDEPENDENT lifestyle is what one wants for aging parents. Parents hope to be independent for as long as possible. They want to continue to travel, take care of their own bills, shop, visit friends and attend worship services. Children sometimes become too “helpful” when parents are capable of handling chores and projects and making decisions for their future. Parents do need family members visiting and checking in on them, showing care and concern, just not insisting on control.

N…NECESSARY intervention will be inevitable for many parents. Knowing when to step in and offer the appropriate type of care and assistance can be stressful. Emotions will surface that might not have been seen or experienced before. When going thru matters for instance, pertaining to insisting a parent not drive any longer, taking over their physical and financial aspects of daily life or ultimately moving them into a facility for mental or physical issues or children becoming caretakers of parents in their own homes, professional agencies might be considered. Seeking assistance from those in the medical field, state/local agencies and counseling professionals might become necessary. But until this time arises…

G…GIVE the gift of respect, love and kindness to parents. They are experiencing and living life to the best of their abilities like their children. One article I came across by Evan H Farr, “What Aging Parents Really Want from Their Adult Children”, stated that adult children should: 1) make suggestions instead of giving orders, 2) pick your battles about what parents can and cannot do, 3) reframe, don’t blame and 4) stop and think how you would want to be treated.

So I guess that brings me back to the Beatles. A couple of the lines from Paul and John’s song says, “Will you still need me, will you still feed, me when I’m sixty-four?” Can I just ask…when I’m 74, 84, 94?

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Veterans Journal: Long-term care benefits for veterans protect your retirement

Published by George W. Reilly in Providence Journal

 

A long-term care event for a veteran or any adult can happen at any age, and the potential financial and emotional strain that comes with it can have an impact on you, your family and your loved ones.

Did you know millions of Americans require long-term care during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes the need for either cognitive or physical assistance with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating and dressing.

Unfortunately, traditional health insurance, including TRICARE or TRICARE for Life, does not pay for the chronic, ongoing assistance with daily living that is most often associated with long-term care.

As a member of the armed services, you are entitled to apply for benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, although several factors come into play when determining eligibility. For this reason, and to ensure you are prepared for any situation, it is important to understand how VA benefits work so you can form a clear understanding of your traditional health-care benefits as well as what a long-term care event might mean for retirement planning.

The VA health benefits program provides coverage for long-term care, but you must qualify for the program. The VA determines the number of veterans who can be enrolled in the program based on congressional funding allocated each year. Due to the limited availability of enrollments, the VA has established eight separate priority groups (see VA Health Care Eligibility online at www.military.com/benefits/veterans-health-care/va-health-care-eligibility.html) to categorize enrollees and determine the level of benefits they are entitled to or whether the potential enrollee is eligible at all.

Eligibility to receive long-term care benefits depends on many factors, including service-connected disability status (70 percent or greater — see the VA’s Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents, and Survivors online at https://bit.ly/2zcGyLv), current income levels, and even your ability to contribute to the cost of care.

Members of the uniformed services seeking long-term care benefits may find they are unable to meet the VA’s eligibility criteria. Long-term care can be expensive, and service members often rely on the VA to cover the associated costs. Depending on your eligibility status in the VA benefits program, the level of coverage available to you may not be enough. For this reason, you may want to consider applying for standalone long-term care insurance like the plan offered through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program at https://bit.ly/2tUYTau.

FLTCIP provides long-term care insurance for enrollees who are federal and U.S. Postal Service employees and annuitants, active and retired members of the uniformed services, and their qualified relatives.

With benefits designed specifically for active and retired members of the uniformed services since 2002, the FLTCIP offers a good way to help protect your savings and assets should you or your loved ones need long-term care. Designed to provide solutions for a range of financial situations, this employer-sponsored program has grown to be the most successful and used program of its kind, providing comprehensive coverage for more than 270,000 people.

Certain family members, or qualified relatives, are also eligible to apply even if the veteran does not. Qualified relatives include spouse, domestic partner, parents, parents-in-law and adult children.

To learn more about the FLTCIP’s benefits and features or to find the average long-term care costs in your geographic area, visit online at LTCFEDS.com. Certain medical conditions or combinations of conditions will prevent some people from being approved for coverage. You need to apply to find out if you qualify for coverage.

The Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program is sponsored by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, insured by John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company and administered by Long Term Care Partners, LLC.

For personalized assistance, call (800) 582-3337 or TTY (800) 843-3557 to speak or interact with a program consultant available to answer any questions and provide step-by-step information on plan design and the application process.

 

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Tips to cope when you’re juggling several chronic health issues

Be proactive by learning about and tracking your conditions and medications, and by speaking up when you have concerns.

Published in Harvard Health Letter

We don’t want our golden years to be spent juggling a long list of health issues. But that’s the reality for most older adults in the United States.

The CDC reports that 75% of Americans ages 65 or older have several chronic health problems. And a 2013 analysis of Medicare claims published online by Preventing Chronic Disease found that 68% of beneficiaries had two or more chronic conditions and 36% had at least four.

“Having multiple chronic diseases is common because people are living longer. The older we are, the more chronic diseases we accumulate,” says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief of gerontology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The challenges

Advances in medicine have improved treatment for many diseases and lengthened life. But those same advances mean that today’s medical care often involves seeing more types of doctors, having more tests, and getting more treatments than in earlier times. In other words, medical care in our golden years is better, but also more complicated.

“People take more medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to manage these conditions. That’s because there are more effective medicines now than there used to be. However, medications can interfere with each other,” Dr. Salamon explains. In addition, treatment for one problem may make another problem worse. “For example, if you have high blood pressure and a history of falls, and lowering your blood pressure makes you feel lightheaded, your fall risk will increase,” says Dr. Erin Stevens, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Doctors do their best to avoid prescribing medicines that are likely to cause problems, but the risk cannot be perfectly predicted. Bad things that are unlikely still can happen. “Another problem is that people get tired of taking medications, or find them too expensive — and so they don’t take them. This can lead to problems of untreated hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions,” Dr. Salamon explains.

Why do we accumulate chronic conditions?

Many factors play a role in the accumulation of health problems. Most diseases involve a combination of genetics and lifestyle. Being born with certain genes can make you more vulnerable than other people to certain diseases. An unhealthy lifestyle can further increase the risk.

Some genes, and some lifestyle factors, influence the risk for multiple diseases. And having one disease can increase your risk for another. “One disease can affect an organ system which then affects another. For example, diabetes can damage nerves, which can lead to loss of sensation in the extremities, which can lead to imbalance, a fall, and disability,” explains Dr. Erin Stevens, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Or you may have high blood pressure that damages blood vessels, which leads to a stroke.

And sometimes health conditions just go hand in hand, and we don’t know why. For example, depression often accompanies heart disease, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease. Autoimmune diseases also can run in clusters. “So if you have thyroid disease, you may be predisposed to another autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Stevens says.

Taking back control

To avoid missteps, be proactive in your health care with these strategies.

Get educated about your conditions. Talk with your doctor about what you can do (like exercise or eat a healthy diet) to take to control of any conditions you already have and to prevent conditions you worry about getting.

Become a medication expert. Find out what each of your medications does, why you need it, what side effects you should particularly watch for, and how it may interact with other drugs. You can get such information from your pharmacist or from online sources (such as the AARP website).

If you see many doctors, be sure each of them knows what medicines the other doctors have prescribed (they will, if they are all part of a hospital or health care system that shares electronic health records).

To be safe, Dr. Stevens recommends bringing all of your medications to each doctor appointment, including over-the-counter pills. “Then we can be sure the medication list on the computer matches the pills and doses that you’re taking,” Dr. Salamon says.

Keep track of your symptoms and treatments. If you’re having symptoms you think may be side effects of a medicine or an adverse interaction between drugs, use a notebook or a computer to record when you take medications, when symptoms develop, and how long the symptoms last.

Get a good CEO. Just as a corporation needs a chief executive officer to oversee its many departments, you may need a primary care physician to look at the big picture and help you make sure treatment for numerous conditions is well coordinated.

Consider palliative care. It’s a misconception that palliative care is only for the end of life. When you have serious degenerative illness — like heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, or a breathing disorder — your quality of life suffers. A palliative care physician can help you manage those conditions, maximize your function, and preserve as much quality of life as possible. “We want to meet people early on, not in crisis mode,” Dr. Stevens says. “Maybe we can prevent a fall or address pain. We can talk about what to expect, so when something happens over time, it won’t be a surprise.”

Be your own advocate. Finally, remember that no one understands how you’re feeling better than you do. Ask questions about your treatment, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having trouble managing your conditions or if you’re concerned about the way your doctors are doing the job.

 

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How will population ageing affect future end of life care?

By Anna Bone

Increasing population ageing means that deaths worldwide are expected to rise by 13 million to 70 million per year in the next 15 years. As a result, there is an urgent need to plan ahead to ensure we meet the growing end of life care needs of our population in the future.

Understanding where people die, and how this could change in the future, is vital to ensuring that health services are equipped to support people’s needs and preferences at the end of life. As researchers at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, we investigated trends in place of death in England and Wales, and found that deaths occurring in care homes could more than double in the next 25 years if recent trends continue.

Using official records on over five and a half million deaths, as well as population forecasts, we estimated the number of people who will die in a range of different settings in years to come. The intention behind this study is that it will help to guide future planning of health and social care. From 2004 to 2014, the proportion of deaths occurring in care homes increased from 17% to 21%, with numbers rising from 85,000 to 106,000 per year. If this trend continues, the number of people dying in care homes will double to over 220,000 per year by 2040, and care homes will overtake hospitals as the most common place to die. Home deaths are also projected to increase over this period to over 216,000 deaths a year. Together, this means that deaths in the community are expected to account for over two-thirds of all deaths by 2040.

We also know that, increasingly, people are living and dying with multiple illnesses and frailty, which adds complexity to their care needs. The rising number of people with complex illness in the community is a challenge for end of life care. A recent study has shown that palliative care needs are expected to increase by 42% by the year 2040. We need greater integration of specialist palliative care into primary care services, as well as more training in palliative care for general health professionals, to ensure that those with palliative care needs can access services they require.

The projected rise of deaths in care homes and in peoples’ own homes is striking. We must ask care home and community services whether they are equipped to both support such an increase in demand and provide high quality end of life care. How can we provide the workforce needed to care for this growing patient group? To enable people to die in their preferred place in future, we need to ensure adequate bed capacity, resources, and training of staff in palliative and end of life care in all care homes in the country. These projections warn of the urgent need to invest more in care homes and community health services. Without this investment, people are likely to seek help from hospitals, which puts pressure on an already strained system and is not where most people would prefer to be at the end of their lives.

The time has come to test new approaches to care in order to ensure that we address this growing need of our population in the years to come. There are promising examples of innovations in care to increase the reach of palliative care services in community settings, for example project ECHO, which facilitates knowledge-sharing between specialist palliative care services, such as hospices, and general health care professionals such as those in care homes. In an era of increasing need alongside constrained health and social care budgets, developing and testing innovative ways to provide high quality care with minimal resources is imperative.

In the words of Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, “how people die remains in the memory of those who live on.”The inevitable population changes described here will affect all of us, directly or indirectly, in the years to come. It is time for us as a society to have an open discussion about how we want health services to be delivered to people towards the end of life. Crucially, we need better evidence on how we can best support a growing number of older people as they reach the end of their lives.

Anna Bone is a PhD Training Fellow at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London. The themes from this blog post come from The Changing Face of Volunteering in Hospice and Palliative Care, published by Oxford University Press.

 

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Advance Care Planning: Reminder for YOU to Have the Conversation

By Cozzie M. King, National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care

The scenario generally plays out the same. A person becomes ill…too ill to make decisions for themselves…too ill to communicate with the attending medical staff. Nearby family rush to the hospital bedside. The physician explains what’s happening to the family. Things aren’t looking good or the medical terminology is not easy to understand. After some time, the family is left to make decisions for their seriously ill loved one. Decisions that have not been discussed or thought about prior to this point. What do we do? Who has the final say? Things normally go downhill from here. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Medical staff dread it. No one wins. Making healthcare decision at the hospital bedside is not the right time. These conversations need to happen before the crisis, not during.

Speak Up

As a mom, sister, daughter, past and future caregiver, I understand the importance of having conversations about my future healthcare decisions with my family and friends. These conversations can be hard to begin. However, there are many resources, tools and games that help families have these talks in creative ways. Over the years, I have facilitated several talks on how to plan and communicate your future healthcare decisions.  One of my personal favorite resources is the Speak Up video. This video is one of the tools I consistently use when explaining why it’s so important to have the conversation and complete an advance directive.  I encourage you to post and share this video with your family and friends on Facebook. They’ll thank you later. The message is short and simple.  Check it out:

Click to watch NHDD Speak Up Video

As we advocate for more families to participate in advance care planning, keep it simple. I remind my family and friends that advance care planning is much more than completing a form. It really is more about the conversations you have before and after any document is completed.

Lead By Example

April 16th is National Health Care Decisions Day (NHDD) and this year’s theme is, “It always seems too early, until it’s too late.” NHDD is a call to action for EVERYONE to:

→Think about your beliefs and values,
→Write them down,
→Choose a healthcare proxy (someone who speaks for you if you are not able),
→Complete an advance directive, and
→Share with your healthcare proxy, family and doctors.

The purpose of NHDD is to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning – and most importantly, to encourage people to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and health care organizations to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. As someone in the health care field,  be sure to complete your advance directive and encourage your colleagues and loved ones to do the same. Practice what you preach. Read related story in TMC News

 

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Another Reason to Avoid Heavy Drinking? Dementia

Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy, a practicing internist, Medscape advisor, and senior medical director for WebMD in a recent Medscape Morning Report 1-minute news story for primary care, reported that heavy drinking can lead to many health issues. 

Dr. Cassoobhoy shared a new study[1] that looks at alcohol use and dementia. The French observational study included over 1 million adults diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013. It found that of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia, 39% were due to an alcohol-related condition like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, liver disease, epilepsy, or head injury. And 18% had an additional diagnosis of alcohol-use disorder.

Overall, alcohol-use disorders were associated with a three-times greater risk for all types of dementia.

The researchers concluded that heavy drinking is the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia. Dr. Cassoobhoy says this should motivate us to focus on early screening, brief interventions, and treatment to help our patients.

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