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An Iron Ranger's view: Heed lessons, aging caregivers

Fifteen years ago it became necessary for Shirley and me to start looking after our aging parents. We became nonpaid caregivers — two of the 43.5 million people in America who care for family members or friends older than 50.

It must be understood that all four of our parents aged in different ways, and some died before they required much care. So what follows is a description based upon our overall experiences of how the caregiving cycle often goes.

At first, aging parents may be able to stay in their homes. To accommodate this, a caregiver has to do home maintenance, take parents to medical appointments, do home remodeling in order to accommodate their aging bodies (railings, wheelchair access, etc.), and much, much more.

In time, as their aging progresses, parents may be unable to live in their own homes by themselves. Flooded bathrooms, stove burners left on, falls, lost wallets, etc., are some indications there must be an immediate change. Then comes the caregiver’s most agonizing decision: Should we take them to live at our house? Or should we find a facility for them?

We found that if the parent is fairly lucid, either in-their-home care or an assisted-living facility is best for all involved. The in-home-care people we spoke with charged $20 per hour for their services ($480 per day for 24-hour care). The assisted-living facilities we visited charged between $2,000 and $4,000 per month, depending upon the level of care needed.

If the caregiver decides upon an assisted-living facility, the caregiver’s responsibility is not over. Parents need to be visited several times a week. And there are trips to the doctor, the hospital, the optometrist, the dentist, the pharmacy, the audiologist and shopping. Shirley and I are still functioning as nonpaid family caregivers, and in the past 15 years we have worn out three automobiles visiting and transporting our parents.

When the aging parent needs a higher level of care than assisted living provides, the caregiver may seek nursing home care. The nursing homes we visited charged between $6,000 and $9,000 per month, depending upon the level of care.

If the parent becomes too ill or too feeble to function in a nursing home setting, the caregiver may arrange for hospice care. Here the focus is on attending to the patient’s pain, symptoms and emotional needs. Hospice care may cost upward of $10,000 per month.

If, at any point in the aging process the parent becomes affected by severe dementia or severe Alzheimer’s, he or she must be taken to a memory care facility. Trying to care for a parent with severe Alzheimer’s or severe dementia is extremely difficult and even dangerous. The average cost of memory care in Minnesota is $3,959 per month, and it can skyrocket as the level of care increases.

People who go to assisted living, memory care, nursing home care or hospice are expected to spend down their assets to pay for their stays. Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance policies may play a part in covering some of the expenses. When the parents’ money is nearly gone, the caregivers must call social services to make arrangements for continuing care.

Shirley and I have become experts at caring for our aging parents. Every decision we ever made for them was made with their safety, comfort and well-being in mind.

And now we have entered old age. Senior care is just around the corner for us. But we’ll be fine if we can only remember what needs to be done.

Joseph Legueri of Gilbert is a writer, retired educator, lifelong Iron Range resident and regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.