BY JAMIE LOBER
Today’s parents have to handle all of the details that are involved in rearing their children and often those of an aging parent as well. Decisions surrounding care for an elderly loved one can be some of the most difficult decisions families face. Assessing the needs of your family can seem overwhelming, but there are psychological, physical, spiritual, and financial benefits to the family and/or the elderly person when efforts are made to keep the person in his or her home as long as possible. There are many options available to Central Georgia families to ensure that their senior family members continue to have a high quality of life when they are no longer able to provide it for themselves. It’s important to develop a care plan early on or even before it’s needed.
A major player in the care of the elderly in Central Georgia is the Middle Georgia Area Agency on Aging. “Our mission is to promote a dignified life and assist seniors to stay in their homes and communities,” says Directory Geri Ward. This organization is often referred to as the “gateway to aging resources” and offers countless opportunities to optimize wellbeing. “We have a database where we have thousands of resources that we share depending upon the need of the individual. There are also wellness educators going to the senior centers,” adds Ward.
Although recent budget cuts in Georgia included an $18.9 million cut from Meals on Wheels, adult day care, in-home respite programs, and other initiatives which advocate for the elderly, the agencies still offer substantial help. “The local Area Agency on Aging was established under the Older Americans Act which authorized a very wide array of service programs that we call a national network of state agencies which are a wonderful portal for information,” informs Smith Law Firm’s attorney Patrick Smith. There are more resources than many people imagine.
Caregiving does not come easy for all. “People need to know that family caregiving is usually a labor of love. People take it on willingly and sometimes even eagerly because they want to give back to this loved one who has been good to them in the past,” says Gayle Alston, director of community initiatives at Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI). It is important to remember that the depth of caregiving is often unknown and you should gather resources early.
RCI is a good place to start. It serves caregiving families in South-Central Georgia with a full service caregiver center. They offer information and referral, telephone learning, education and training, and access to evidence-based programs.
“Start looking around even before you are a family caregiver,” advises Alston. Do not forget to have the right documents in place before you begin. “These would be the proper durable powers of attorney to help handle finances and property as well as advanced healthcare directives. This way you can avert the need to go to a probate court,” says Smith. After your documents are in order, you can relax knowing that it is time to get back to the basics.
Do not overlook the value that nutrition has on your wellbeing. You may take advantage of the home-delivered Meals on Wheels. “We provide nutritious meals to help individuals maintain a dignified and independent lifestyle. We offer friendship, comfort, and hope to all, so we are more than a meal. We also provide senior employment through a federal grant,” summarizes Winnie Hinton, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Macon and Bibb County. Lunch meals containing around 700 calories and from 25 to 55 grams of protein are provided Monday through Friday for six dollars each. Do make sure the recipient consumes additional protein each day at other meals or as inexpensive snacks like peanut butter sandwiches. If you are unable to pay, financial accommodations can be made by calling the Area Agency on Aging. Meals on Wheels personnel make an effort to get to know the person. “We assess clients by tracking their nutritional risk scores and activities of daily living, so we are developing outcome measures showing the relationship between nutrition and health,” shares Hinton.
“We have a partnership with Macon Kennel Club (www.maconkennelclub.org), so we serve pets too,” adds Hinton. Studies have shown that people who are homebound can benefit from being able to keep their pet, and they live independently longer if they do. Unfortunately, people who are homebound may give their food to their pet if they can’t get out to buy pet food. This is not good for their nutrition, or for that of their pet.
Fresh ‘N Fit Cuisine is a good option for families who can afford it. The Atlanta-based company will overnight three meals a day in two iced shipments per week. The well-balanced meals prepared with fresh ingredients can be reheated in the microwave or consumed cold. Daily protein ranges from 75-90 grams of protein per day for the 1200 calorie level and 125-150 grams of protein per day for the 2,000 calorie level. Pricing is as follows:
- 1200 calorie (7 days; 21 meals): $134
- 1200 calorie (5 days; 15 meals): $114
- 2000 calorie (7 days; 21 meals): $159
- 2000 calorie (5 days; 15 meals): $129
We tried a week of the meals and were impressed with the obvious freshness and tastiness. No more shopping and deciding what to eat for your loved one. The program is also great for younger family members who just want to lose weight. For more information, please visit www.freshnfitcuisine.com.
A little extra help in your home may be all it takes to maintain your independence. There are numerous home-based services that offer exactly that. “We are an in-home health agency and provide professional personal care with activities of daily living like errands, doctors’ appointments, housekeeping, meal preparation, and medication supervision,” summarizes Caroline Shoemake of Family Care Solutions. The Visiting Angels are a source of companionship and assist with meal preparation, hygiene, medication reminders, errands, doctors’ visits and light housekeeping. Senior centers in Perry, Warner Robins and Macon/Bibb County offer transportation from your home to their center. The centers provide socialization and activities including games, exercise and meals.
Expenses can add up quickly. If you are having trouble understanding finances, Georgia Cares can help. “We assist consumers in understanding their Medicaid program, finding prescription coverage and supplemental health insurance, and knowing their long-term care options,” says Ward. Know your rights. “There is a VA program and pension benefit that can assist with the payment of monthly medical expenses for either veterans or surviving spouses of veterans,” shares Smith. Dealing with the ongoing demands of caregiving can be stressful.
If you are looking for a friend or someone to lend an ear, you can always contact the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. “I sit and talk to caregivers for however long they need to talk. I echo to them that what they are going through is a normal part of caregiving and there is nothing wrong with them,” says Alston. You are not alone.
Individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s have a strong support system. “We help people understand better what is happening to them and help provide ways they can be supported through the experience. It is really too much for any individual or any one family,” insists Susan Formby, LCSW, program director of Alzheimer’s Association. Optimism is important during difficult times. “Our hope is a world without Alzheimer’s,” affirms Formby.
There are many people looking out for the elderly. “Our society is a professional organization that does advocacy at the Capitol during the session,” says Matthew Malick, administrative director of Georgia Gerontology Society. Issues are selected each year to benefit seniors. “This year’s issue is grandparents raising grandchildren,” he says.
Make sure to maintain the same healthy lifestyle in yourself that you are promoting in others. “You have to continue to take care of yourself or caregiving will put your health at risk,” warns Alston. Do not discard this information. “Knowing the various things people can do to plan is half of the battle,” affirms Smith. If you know someone who may benefit from becoming aware of the numerous services and resources in Central Georgia, be sure to pass along the knowledge.#