As we age and navigate our own unique path through life, there are many things that will need to be taken into consideration along the way. This is especially true when it comes to getting ready for our retirement and senior years, with a myriad of things to be aware of, plan for and have in place. From the normal stuff of day-to-day life such as preparing for the winter months now that the pretty autumn weather is upon us or the regular check-ups with your team of health care professionals to the more complex affairs such as financial planning, retirement and estate planning, optimal living arrangements, funeral planning and emergency protocol, it’s all in the details. With so many uncertainties about the future, whether it’s our health, the economy, or any other number of things that can impact our quality of life, it’s important to know about local resources who can offer assistance, allowing us to fully enjoy all of the years we are given.

Mark Kresl – Senior Health Foundation and Midwest Geriatrics, Inc.

“In the age of baby boomers, the world is changing every day when it comes to senior care,” emphasizes Mark Kresl of the Senior Health Foundation and Midwest Geriatrics, Inc.  “Seniors are able to stay in their homes longer thanks to better health, better lifestyles, better medicine, and in-home care agencies like Empower Home Care.  The best way to keep up with these changes is to be as informed as possible.  There are many resources that are available to help a person navigate this complex issue.  The Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging is one of the best resources one can find.  They can be found at http://www.enoa.org/. Another good resource is Care Consultants for the Aging, www.careconsultants.com, which publishes the annual Omaha Area Eldercare Resource Handbook.  In it you will find information covering everything from finances, insurance, senior services, and housing options. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be informed.  An informed decision has a much better chance of being a right decision.

This is especially true in discovering the resources available to help determine the abilities of a person to remain at home.  Most in-home care agencies offer free in-home assessments to determine the needs of an individual.  These assessments will measure activities of daily living.   The term “activities of daily living,” or ADLs, refers to the basic tasks of everyday life, such as eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and transferring. When people are unable to perform these activities, they need help, either from other human beings, mechanical devices or both.  The assessment of ADL’s can determine what level of help is needed to keep your loved one in their homes longer.  Empower Home Care offers free assessments by request, and we can be reached at (402) 557-6869.”

Activities of daily life generally change a bit as we age, so it’s important to continue to adapt and find new ways to stay active and engaged with those around us. “Volunteering and being socially active has many benefits,” Kresl adds. “First and foremost are the health benefits.  Studies have shown that volunteering, even a few hours a week, can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, and reduce depression in seniors.  It’s also a great way to share your career skills with others who could benefit. The key to a successful volunteer experience is finding the right match for you. Keep an open mind about finding the right organization for your preferences. Visiting the organization, getting a sense of their volunteer program, and talking with staff and some of the other volunteers might also help you decide if it is the right fit for your situation.”

Jennifer Dil – Comfort Keepers Omaha

Jennifer Dil of Comfort Keepers Omaha offers some information from her experience working with elderly clients:

“There comes a certain point in your life when you feel like you are the oldest. And when you are the oldest you say things like, ‘my reading group is done because I am the only one left’ and ‘all of my friends have died.’  You sigh when you hear another friend passed away and soon you are the last one left from your generation in your family. We all know that death is part of life. Who doesn’t know the phrase, ‘The only two sure things in life are death and taxes?’ That concept is part of our national conscious. Yet, we do a really good job as individuals and as a nation of not thinking about death. We avoid putting ourselves into the thought process of, ‘what if I outlive all of my family and friends?’ It is a problem when we don’t think about the end of our life and do not prepare for our death.

You know the problems, right? No will, no estate plan, no medical advocate, no funeral arrangements, no life insurance, no one knows your wishes if you are in a coma or on breathing machines, well, you get the picture. Now magnify your individual death to a national scale. There were 76.4 million births between 1946 and 1964 – the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomers comprise a full 40% of our population and the youngest of them are 50. The oldest are just reaching their 70’s. Run the numbers through your head, forward think it. What will life look like for 40% of our population in the next decade or two? If we are unprepared for death in great numbers, we are facing a national crisis.

We know that we will die. We can see the numbers from the population statistics and we are facing a problem in our country. Consider this, medical advances have increased our life span but life insurance policies, long term care polices and health insurance have not adapted. We are outliving our money due to outdated projections. How do we handle the numbers of serious illnesses (the grey tsunami) due to the natural aging process when many of our hospitals are already maxed out? What about the sheer number of bodies for burial? We have a national nursing shortage as we walk into a period in the U.S. when we know our population will require ever more nurses. How do we handle 40 million elderly drivers on the roads? What will our neighborhoods look like with all of those homes and apartments being untended? What if even a quarter of the Boomers get dementia? Who will care for them?

Comfort Keepers is on the front lines of the aging process. We are in private homes, hospitals, independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care facilities. We see a disconnect between the needs of an aging population and any or all of the following: their family, their doctor or therapist, hospice, hospitals, emergency services, senior housing, financial planners and insurance agents, the DMV, urban planners, the community and all levels of government. We have decided to help reconnect the community to the aging cycle because we refuse to ignore the grey tsunami of aging facing our country. Comfort Keepers wants this great generation to age with dignity and respect. We are starting the conversation to identify problems and provide solutions for our aging citizens and our community, and we hope that you will join us.”

Greg Nabity – Nebraska Cremation

“Seniors and their families should be talking about how they want to be remembered and memorialized after they die,” agrees Greg Nabity, owner of Nebraska Cremation. “We have seen a significant uptick in preplanning cremation services. Doing so leaves no questions about what someone wants done upon their death. It also eliminates the doubts that family members sometimes feel and allows them to focus on their own emotional needs rather than tending to the details associated with planning cremation services. Our website at NebraskaCremation.com also has some helpful planning resources for seniors and their families to utilize.

Furthermore, with science finding more ways to use genetic testing, it is more important than ever to preserve genetic material for future generations. Collecting and storing a DNA sample has become a simple and inexpensive process. Using a noninvasive method such as a cheek swab or a hair sample, funeral homes can collect a DNA sample from a deceased person to be professionally processed for long term room temperature storage so that genetic markers can be safely stored at home. DNA allows heirs the opportunity to track, diagnose and prevent everything from simple skin disorders to terminal cancer. Genetic medicine is making tremendous strides and a family’s genetic legacy is valuable in this era of genetics. Nebraska Cremation has brochures and resources that cover the topic of DNA preservation.”

As far as options for senior care, there are a wide range of wonderful resources currently available and this is an area that’s growing steadily to accommodate the growth in our senior population as well. “Many seniors are able to take advantage of home care options to fill the gap with additional assistance when needed, whether in the home they’ve lived in for years or a retirement community that they’ve settled into.

Jamie Peters, APRN – Health at Home Consultants

“Our Nurse Practitioners will visit a patient wherever their home may be – an independent living community, assisted living community, skilled nursing facility, or private residences,” emphasizes Jamie Peters, APRN of Health at Home Consultants. “This is especially helpful for those who aren’t mobile or who don’t have family close enough to offer regular assistance. During the winter months, it’s important for seniors to avoid situations where their safety could be in jeopardy. Home visits keep them indoors while still having access to care and other items that they need to stay healthy and happy. Especially in the case of seniors who have difficulty getting to their doctor’s office, we will collaborate with the primary physician to ensure that they are involved in our client’s care and they will receive updates on our visits. Furthermore, we always give the designated family member contact a call after each visit – keeping everyone updated is of the utmost importance to us.”

Janet Miller – Partnerships in Caregiving, Inc.

As a lot of family members do opt to take on the role of caregiver, it can be helpful to utilize resources to alleviate some of the stress that can take its toll on loved ones. “Caregivers often struggle with fatigue, depression, health issues, job and home struggles, and emotional stress,” explains Janet Miller of Partnerships in Caregiving, Inc. “Currently over 12 million Americans require assistance with daily tasks such as eating, dressing, bathing and transportation as a result of physical limitations or cognitive impairments, including a large senior population. Our mission at Partnerships in Caregiving is to promote and provide support to caregivers and their families across the lifespan through education, training, respite care and partnerships in the community. Respite care is a wonderful resource that greatly helps to alleviate some of the stress that caregivers experience, and many times this care can be covered through insurance and other avenues of assistance. Moreover, we offer an educational program, Powerful Tools for Caregivers, which helps family and friends caring for adults (or children) with long-term health conditions. It’s a six week series that focuses on different tools that will help guide the caregiver through the caregiving journey and you can find out more at www.piaging.com. It’s important for seniors and their families to understand that there are many different resources available; stress negatively impacts the health and wellbeing of all parties and there are plenty of people willing to lend a hand and help wherever they are needed, from a few hours a week to 24-hour care.”

When it comes to living arrangements, the following article from www.helpguide.org offers useful guidelines for making the decision that’s best for each individual:

It’s natural to want to stay at home as you grow older. However, taking a step back to look at the big picture can help you decide whether staying at home for the long term truly is the right step for you. Too often, decisions to leave home are suddenly made after a sudden loss or emergency, making adjustments all the more painful and difficult. Take a look at your options, your budget, and some of the alternatives. Your home situation is unique, and several factors will weigh in on the best choice for you. Here are some of the issues in evaluating your options:

Location and accessibility. Where is your home located? Are you in a rural or suburban area that requires a lot of driving? If you’re in an area with more public transit, is it safe and easily accessible? How much time does it take you to get to services such as shopping or medical appointments?

Home accessibility and maintenance. Is your home easily modified? Does it have a lot of steps or a steep hill to access? Do you have a large yard that needs to be maintained?

Support available. Do you have family and friends nearby? How involved are they? Are they able to provide you the support you need? Many older adults prefer to rely on family to provide help, but as your needs increase, they might not be able to fill in all of the gaps. It’s important to consider proximity to community services and activities as well.

Isolation. If it becomes difficult or impossible for you to leave home without help, isolation can rapidly set in. You may not be able to participate in hobbies you once loved, stay involved in community service that kept you motivated, or visit with friends and family. Losing these connections and support is a recipe for depression.

Medical conditions. No one can predict the future. However, if you or a loved one has a chronic medical condition that is expected to worsen over time, it’s especially important to think about how you will handle health and mobility problems. What are common complications of your condition, and how will you handle them?

Finances. Making a budget with anticipated expenses can help you weigh the pros and cons of your situation. Alternate arrangements like assisted living can be expensive, but extensive in-home help can rapidly become expensive as well, especially at higher levels of care and live-in or 24-hour coverage.

Throughout the years, Care Consultants for the Aging’s Home Care Registry and ElderCare Resource Handbook have helped thousands of people in Nebraska and Iowa with their eldercare needs. In fact, the newest editions have just been released with the most up-to-date resources in the area listed!

The Home Care Registry (www.careconsultants.com/home-care/) will help you find interviewed, screened, and qualified caregivers to fit your home care needs. This includes companions, Home Health Aides, Certified Nursing Aides and Nurses offering general and specialized client-directed care services.

The ElderCare Resource Handbook (www.careconsultants.com/eldercare-resource-handbook/) provides a complete listing of companies that provide services to seniors in the Lincoln and Omaha metro areas.

You can access these resources online via the websites listed, or you may utilize the direct links on the Care Consultants website, www.careconsultants.com. If you would like to purchase your own copy of the ElderCare Resource Handbook, you may do so for $7 per book at any of the two offices. The Omaha office is located at 7701 Pacific Street, #100, Omaha, NE 68114. If you would prefer to have one mailed to you, the cost is $11 per book. You may send them a check or order online with a credit card via the website.

Everyone is different and people need various options while navigating their healthcare journey. Different factors determine when and what kind of help is needed. Furthermore, Care Consultants understands that it is hard to ask for help. Their services are set up in a way that will get you the care you need. Their Home Care Registry has provided relief for so many, allowing care to be client-directed, while their ElderCare Resource Handbook has provided options for those trying to navigate the aging process. By understanding the services, resources and options which are available locally, it is the hope of Care Consultants that seniors and their families will be able to make informed decisions which have the potential to enhance their quality of life and independence.

Julie Laughlin – Home Nursing With Heart

“Seniors are living longer and they want to stay in their homes as long as possible before a transition to assisted facilities,” adds Julie Laughlin, owner of Home Nursing With Heart. Home health companies with nursing and therapy, companion care companies, and the wealth of community resources available all help them stay at home successfully.

So many times the elderly and their families think that home health care (nursing and/or therapy) is something they will have to pay for if needed. Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurance plans cover this at 100 percent so there’s no out-of-pocket expense.

There are a lot of identifiers in gauging the needs of seniors. Being afraid or unsafe in bathing is remedied with an occupational therapy visit. Losing weight, being excessively tired, forgetfulness, or frequent falls are types of issues can be addressed with a physical therapy visit. One of the scenarios a nursing visit identifies is when someone isn’t taking his or her medications correctly. In this case nursing will correct it through putting the meds in the Mediset (the pill box arranged by day and week) and at the same time will educate the senior on what the medications are for, how and when to take them, and how to identify any side effects possibly associated with the meds. When you recognize any of the above situations it’s wise to either contact the family physician or a nursing agency that has therapy capabilities.”

She adds, “As far as preparing for the upcoming winter months, some common concerns to watch for include catching a cold or the flu, as well as icy streets and sidewalks. My recommendation is to always get your flu shot, wash your hands often, and be extra careful when using assistive devices like canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Personal assistance is always helpful. Making the choice to stay inside during inclement weather whenever possible avoids these potential areas of concern. However, being social and staying active is always the best medicine in the fall and winter months when the weather permits. Always remember the quote, ‘Depression hates a moving target.’”

Karla Frese – Walnut Grove Retirement Community

“Staying engaged — whether with friends or keeping up with favorite pastimes — has multiple positive health benefits,” agrees Karla Frese of Walnut Grove Retirement Community. “Being around others keeps all people, regardless of age, connected and positive, which reduces depression. There is no better place to watch the fall football games than in the Walnut Grove Theatre. Seeing friends regularly can alert them to changes in a person’s appearance or behavior that may be cause for concern. And of course exercise itself is important to maintaining overall health.

Walnut Grove offers an abundance of activity options including outings around town, clubs that do everything from play cards and games to discuss books. We have residents who do hand crafts such as crochet or quilting and take how-to classes such as painting or stained glass making. Our weekly calendar is full of entertaining activities that sharpen dexterity and encourage memory recall.”

She continues, “When assessing a senior’s living conditions, there are obvious things to watch for: weight loss, overall appearance, home cleanliness, home maintenance (mowed yards, changed light bulbs, shoveled snow), pet health. There are subtle cues you can pick up in a conversation, such as activity level, ability to recall, or unusual sadness.

Many seniors want to ‘age in place,’  so at Walnut Grove we offer a wide range of services and amenities to help make that happen for as long as possible. We welcome home health specialists for residents who need extra assistance from time to time. Since nutrition can be a factor, we offer our residents access to healthy food choices for seniors who have cooked all their lives and are ready to spend their time doing other things they love. If they love to cook, our apartments have full kitchens. The Walnut Grove community also provides connections and camaraderie, which give residents their independence in a friendly setting while making it easier for families to feel good about their loved ones living situation.

There are a number of websites with information on where to hire a reliable handyman or healthy cooking for one — but they aren’t always senior oriented and require research on multiple sites. Our independent living option provides information on affordability, maintenance, house cleaning, cooking and other amenities all in one place, for one monthly price.

Furthermore, the live-in managers at Walnut Grove know every resident well and work tirelessly to ensure they’re happy and healthy. Specifically during the winter months, Walnut Grove maintenance staff takes care of ice and snow removal along with offering scheduled transportation to help residents get around in cold weather. We serve all three meals and have an in-house gym, bank, pharmacy and gift shop, salon, and theatre so our residents don’t have to run errands in the cold.”

When a move to a retirement or assisted living community becomes an option that is being seriously considered, there are plenty of resources available to help with this as well.

Roxann Rogers-Meyer – Immanuel Communities

“Deciding on a retirement community can be a difficult decision and there is a great deal of confusion about senior housing choices and the differences in the levels of care,” says Roxann Rogers-Meyer of Immanuel Communities. “When choosing a community one of the most important considerations is matching the type of services and care necessary for the individual.

At Immanuel communities, we encourage seniors and their families to plan ahead. The earlier you begin planning for your future, the more options, the more choices and control you have over your future. It is important to do some research and to understand the level of care or services that a loved one may require at any given point.   Too often, we are helping families who have waited until a crisis and in that situation there are limited options.

Many seniors who move to an Immanuel community are pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy the senior living lifestyle.  They often comment that they wish they had made the move sooner.

Independent living offers a secure and maintenance-free lifestyle featuring exceptional dining programs, lifelong learning opportunities, wellness programs and social events to promote fellowship and forge new friendships. A highlight each year is the Residents Appreciation event.  Immanuel has hosted Peggy Fleming, Dick Cavett and James Lovell as part of the event.

Immanuel Communities encourages families to start the conversation and to take into consideration the wishes of their loved ones and what their view of their lifestyle may look like as they move to a retirement community.”

As with any move, it’s important to prepare as much as possible for a smooth transition. For seniors especially, there is also generally some downsizing that needs to happen with a move from their home to an apartment in a retirement or assisted living community.

Tyler Whalen – Two Men And A Truck

“It’s never too early to start downsizing,” advises Tyler Whalen, co-owner of the Two Men And A Truck Omaha franchise. “A great way to downsize is to have a garage sale or consign items at a local thrift shop.  This allows the individual to make some extra money as they clear unneeded items out of their house.

Most seniors have lived in their houses for 30+ years and don’t realize how small the new space is that they are going to be moving into.  After a particular apartment is chosen, it can be helpful to ask the complex for an overhead drawing of their new space.  Use a pencil and start drawing in what furniture you will take and where it will go in the apartment.  This will give you a good idea of your plan of action moving forward. This way you’ll avoid bringing too much furniture with you and will also make for less decisions needing to be made on move day, which will help cut down on stress.

I always suggest that seniors and their families start planning as early as possible so that the person doesn’t start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out.  When it comes to making some of the big decisions it’s advantageous to get other family members involved so there’s more than one person helping with decisions, which can also cut down on the stress.

Our typical move really does consist of two men, but when doing some moves into senior living we can send 4-8 men to help reduce move time.  Our services that have been popular among our customers is scheduling one day to come into their home to get everything packed, make the move to senior living, and get everything unpacked and organized all at once.  When doing a full-service, one day move for a customer we’ve found that it can really cut back on the severity of the impact the move has on them.”

Many seniors and their families will be approaching decisions that greatly impact their lives, and these decisions should be made with great care and awareness of the many wonderful resources that are out there and ready to help wherever it’s needed. While every person and scenario is different, the important thing to know is that you don’t have to navigate your own personal journey alone. Make sure to utilize the experts and you’ll be prepared for just about anything that comes your way!

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