Caregiving: Dying Slowly in America by Rosemary Crawford

rosemarytestphDying slowly in America is a costly and painful experience for the departing family member, as well as for their loved ones, particularly if dementia is involved.While dying is a natural part of life, government and medical institutions are not always set up to provide quality health care at an affordable price. During the illness, it is not uncommon to see people lose all or most of the assets they have worked for their entire life. Sadly, also sometimes it is the case that those who care for the elderly often become sick themselves and, in some instances, pass away before the patient.

It is important when dealing with a dying loved one to remember that, even if they have dementia, they are still cognizant beings that have some awareness. It is paramount to ensure that they have quality health care providers who do not abuse them. It is not an easy task.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.4 million Americans with this condition. Many of these individuals do not have the funds to have the 24-hour care needed, which can have different consequences for the person suffering from the disease. In some instances, family members take turns staying with the patient in the patient’s home. In others, the patient stays with one family member, who often provides care 24 hours a day, and in cases where neither of these is an option, the patient is placed in a facility that may cost the family thousands of dollars per month.

In some instances, the patient may live in his/her home with assistants. The average cost of aides is $7.00-$15.00/hour. If a patient receives 24-hour care, a family can pay from $5,000 to $10,000 per month for basic services. More qualified aides may request up to $40.00 per hour, equaling around $26,000 per month. For the average American family these costs are overwhelming, can deplete an estate, and can lead to abject poverty. That is why it is essential for individuals to consider long-term health insurance.  The insurance may seem expensive; however, it can be lifesaving.

Another aspect that is often overlooked is elder abuse. This is a serious issue that cannot be ignored. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans ages 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse. This can come in the form of neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, or by stealing money and/or property from the patient. This abuse is not limited to strangers; family members sometimes abuse the patient as well.   The causes of the abuse range from the stress of serving as a caretaker to greed.  That is why it’s so important to check on the patient often – even daily – and to ask questions. During this time you might learn that the people you entrusted to love and care for the patient might not be doing those things, but rather they are seeking the patient’s assets. Keep in mind that abuse is less likely to occur when the caretaker knows that family is checking in to make sure their loved one is receiving appropriate care.

Beneficiaries should make sure that proper planning is done long before the patient becomes ill. It is important to have a responsible person with good character on the elderly person’s bank account, car titles, and house deeds. A will, living will, or Power of Attorney should also be prepared so that the patient’s wishes will be carried out. Insurance and burial instructions are key to avoiding misunderstandings.

Finally, make sure that the patient has only one or two accidental death in- surance policies. Since they will likely die of natural causes, these policies will essentially become obsolete. Rather, make sure that whole-life and term policies are in place in order to provide for loved ones.

Watching a loved one die slowly is extremely painful and overwhelming. Family members must take care of themselves physically and mentally. Ask family members and friends for help. Engage in physical exercise if possible, and do not resort to self-medication to ease the pain.

Once the patient passes on, the grief may also cause mental and physical stress.

Be aware that mourning is normal. There are “Mourner’s Rights” to keep in mind. You may likely mourn at least a year and you are at higher risk for dying, getting a new illness, developing sleep issues, becoming malnourished, making decisions you may later regret, and thinking that you are losing your mind. You deserve lots of extra support while mourning.

Remember to love and take care of yourself as much as you do your loved one, and don’t be afraid to seek ways to support yourself and them as well.

Rosemary Crawford, Esq, is the owner of Crawford McDonald Law firm.  She has been a bankruptcy attorney for years. She is a sought after speaker; addressing financial matters for women.

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