Thursday, March 22, 2012

Paid Companions for the Elderly: They're great, but why do we need them in BC?

My mom with Alice, a nurse and "paid companion" who has become a close family friend
I've just returned from a visit to see my Dad and family in Pennsylvania, and was once again touched and impressed by the care and affection of Dad's "paid companion" Mary. Although Dad is now in extended care, with a good staff to patient ratio, Mary provides the added personal attention and stimulation that makes Dad's life so much fuller each day. My brother and his wife also live nearby, and are there almost daily too, and are caring and attentive and do so much for Dad, and his other "kids" visit often, but we as a family have long ago realized the added dimension that private caregivers contribute, and also how lucky we are that Dad has been able to pay for this care, first for Mom (who passed away 4 years ago) and now for himself.
And yet, I can't help but worry about the increase in the numbers of paid companions over the last 20 years here in British Columbia, where we used to have far more home support services offered through our government health care system, but where now the aides and nurses are almost overwhelmed much of the time simply doing the necessities, with little time to sit and chat and have a personal interlude with any of their clients.
As I researched this topic with the help of Linda Outcalt, a project manager and research assistant at  the Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria, who wrote her master's thesis on paid companions and their elderly clients in BC, I realized that the reason for the huge increase in this job category in BC is because of the cutbacks to community care services which used to include many of the functions now being filled by privately paid companions, or caregivers. In other words, thanks to government cutbacks and a philosophy of "do it yourself...whether you can afford to or not" that is part of our political climate, the reality now is that those who can afford private care will pay for it and get better care, and those who can't, well....they just have to do without.
And yet, according to Linda, backed up by research done at the Centre on Aging, it is actually cheaper for the government to cover these community care costs and avoid institutionalization of the elderly than it is to offload the costs to the elderly and their families and make them pick up the tab for private care. If this is accurate, and I believe it is, then why does our government carry on with these cutbacks instead of the win win of reinstituting and even expanding community care and/or additional caregivers for our growing elderly population? Scandinavian countries do this very well, it seems. And the current vogue is to encourage people to "age in place"....which means, at this point, take on your own costs at home if you can. I'd like to see more publicity of this topic and more stats and a societal attitude in keeping with our Canadian belief in socialized medicine and health care for all.
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Monday, March 12, 2012

March is the month to "embrace" that possible?

So, "embrace aging" you say? If you're like me, you think that idea may be just a bit over the top....I mean, I'm working on trying to gracefully accept aging, never mind embrace it! But, since the alternative isn't great either, I suppose the idea makes least, the Victoria Eldercare Foundation thinks so, and they are sponsoring a wide array of free workshops all during the month of March, where you can explore everything from how to avoid scam artists to how to write your obituary (a writing exercise that is often used in journalism classes, by the way, to get you thinking about what's do now!). You can also learn about how to get shoes properly fitted, or be introduced to Tai Chi, or even find out how to get the most of our your next doctor's appointment! To register for these free sessions or find out more, go to the Eldercare Foundation website or call them at 250-370-5664.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Legal Matters Matter

At a certain point in a NYNOs life, it's a good idea to take a look at your legal affairs....okay, so when did you last do a will?  Do you even have a will?
We finally did this, at the urging of our financial consultant, and now we can feel quite smug that we've done the basics, and all is well.
If you are so inclined, a bit of advice: Expect the will and accompanying documents you'll need (i.e. Power of Attorney and Representation Agreement, if you live in British Columbia) to cost you around $1,000, for a couple to have these things done.
Make sure you choose to assign your Power of Attorney to a person you trust, and further, make sure it's an enduring Power of Attorney, that is, goes on after your death or if you become incapable of making decisions. Next, our unique Representation Agreement (think of it as a POA for medical and personal health care matters, or even a living will) is important to have in place...BC is the only place on earth that has them....and think about an Advance Medical Directive that your doctor keeps in his/her office, and that spells out your precise instructions to your doctor about what to do in medical crises if you can't make decisions then. It's very worth it to take the time (and spend the money) to get these documents, at least, in place....then you'll be sure that you, and not the courts, are in charge of deciding who might make decisions on your behalf when you can no longer do so. Your will only applies after your death, but the POA and Representation Agreement may kick in when you are alive, but no longer capable of decision making. Get these in place for peace of mind! For more on this, take a listen to my March 8, 2012 column (Legal Matters Matter) at  my CBC url page.