WHEELING - As family members grow older, planning ahead can save time, money and emotional distress.
"The key is to start planning early," said Christy Tarr, administrator of the Wheeling Hospital Bishop Hodges Continuous Care Center, regarding aging members of the family. "The earlier the better. The most important thing to remember is pre-plan and avoid crisis time.
"You want to introduce (the option of elder care) while they're healthy and well and in charge of their decision-making. You want to do it in increments"
According to the National Council on Aging, about 91 percent of older adults have a least one chronic condition, and 73 percent have at least two. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and lung disease, can seriously compromise the quality of life of older adults, often forcing them to give up their independence too soon.
In addition, chronic conditions place a significant financial burden on individuals, families and health care systems. In 2011, this cost totaled nearly $3 trillion for the global economy, studies indicate. It is estimated that 80 percent of all health care spending comes in the final years of life.
The traditional medical model, which focuses more on the illness than the patient, is costly and often ineffective.
Tarr explained the health of the aging family members plays an important part in the planning. Early planning gives the elderly members of the family the opportunity to take part in making the arrangements for themselves. This gives all members of the family more peace of mind.
"The key concerns are financial, emotional needs, and type of care needs," she said. "There are different levels of care. The care, for example, doesn't need to be given at a facility, depending on type and level of care needed. Care may be given in the home, or long term care facility, skilled level care, or assisted living."
She continued, "Along with planning you need to get the education regarding finances. You need to look into the legal documents, what we call advanced directives, and that is a legal document that explains who makes the decisions if you should be unable to do so. So you can see the relevance of starting early and having these discussions. With these discussions you are able to make those decisions and avoid being in the crisis mode."
Advance directives can be done with attorneys but there are other ways, including using social workers. Tarr pointed out every state has different laws governing advanced directives, which need to be followed.
Financially, she said there is a false impression that Medicare will pay for everything. She said that is not true and suggests investigating long-term care insurance if it appears it may be needed.
"People need to consider the risk in making their long-term plans," she said. "A lot depends on what the person's health is and the financial situation. There are a lot of factors. It's all learning to prepare for change. With the planning comes your emotional preparedness. People have to take care of themselves as well as their elderly relatives."