Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: Orange County/CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way. Now working at my Alma Mater, UC Irvine, as Marketing and Communications Director for the School of Biological Sciences.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Extraordinary Care

I'm seeking a full-time job after five years of caring for my parents, authoring a book, freelance writing and consulting. This time out in the marketing arena, I want to do something I love. It won't be corporate travel management. I hope to find a fulfilling job in senior services, education or non-profit. This past week, as part of the interview process for a marketing position with Silverado Senior Living, I paid a visit to one of Silverado's assisted living communities. Silverado's residents are people with dementia and Alzheimer's. I dropped by their Newport-Mesa community because it's close to my home.

A couple of years ago, my stepdad, Jack was in a local skilled nursing facility for eight weeks. It's considered one of the best in the coastal communities of Orange County. Sadly, my sister and I had to be there every day to serve as his advocates because he was often left sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway for hours and he told us the dining room staff was rude to him.

When I entered the Silverado building, I was greeted by the receptionist who reached out to shake my hand. Her name was Bettie. I told her I was interviewing for a job with Silverado's corporate office and wanted to see what their communities are like. I noticed a big orange and white cat sitting next to her desk. She told me that pets are an important part of the lifestyle. About that time, a woman came into the foyer carrying a plate with a sandwich and some cole slaw. Her badge identified her as "Heidi - Family Ambassador" and she smiled when Bettie told her I had come to check out the facility. "I'll give you a tour right now," Heidi said. "What about your lunch?" I asked. "I can eat my sandwich later."

Heidi was very cheerful and open as we walked around looking at the clean and bright rooms. The residents were clean and seemed to be content. They were in different "country kitchens" and dining areas throughout the property. "We have no right angles here, the hallways meander, as do the walkways outside because we don't want our residents to be faced with difficult decisions," Heidi said. A big old greyhound came down the hall toward us. Heidi introduced him as "Willy, one of our older residents." I laughed. Then we looked into another room and there was fat orange cat on the bed. "That's Simba," Heidi said. "He was very skittish until he met Mary who lives in this room. Mary was a 'catwoman' before she moved in with us. She used to collect strays in her neighborhood. She is the only one who could settle down our Simba and now he spends all his time with her." It was a good story for someone like me who has four pets at home. I gave Heidi one of my books before I left.

I must say - and this is not because I'm in the job interview process - Silverado is like the Disneyland of assisted living communities. Their communities are extraordinary. Clean, bright, filled with caring people and residents who seem to be enjoying themselves, even in various states of dementia. I loved my tour. If my mom gets to a point where she can't live at her place any more, I now know where to take her!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine Milestone

Three years ago today, my sister and I moved our parents into a lovely assisted living community. You would have thought we'd taken them to a slaughterhouse. They were horrified and did not cooperate with us or the movers. Thankfully, my niece, Hannah, was with us and she took both of her grandparents into my mom's bedroom and all three of them curled up in the big bed and watched Live with Regis & Kelly and The View together while the movers did their thing.

When we arrived at their new place, the big bed and the bedroom TV were the first things out of the truck, so once again, they got into the bed with Hannah and watched Oprah and Ellen until it was time to go downstairs for their first dinner in the dining room. Mom and Jack didn't want to go, but my sister and I and our husbands and Hannah said we were staying for dinner because it was supposedly a fun Valentine's Day party. My parents wanted nothing to do with it, but they were hungry, so they followed us downstairs. All ladies were presented with roses when we entered the room. We had reserved a big table for the whole family. Everyone was dressed to the nines, except for us because we had been moving all day. I remember feeling a little embarassed, but I was determined to be positive for my parents' sake. There was live music and couples were dancing. Several young men from UC Irvine had come as volunteers to dance with the single ladies. I thought it was wonderful. My parents hated every minute.

They continued to hate the place for several months. And then they started to make some friends. Gradually, they began to enjoy their new home. Tonight is their "third anniversary" living in their little palace and they have been excited about the "Sweethearts Ball" for a week. Mom has planned her special outfit, Jack is wearing a blue blazer and they have a special table with their "best friends," Eva and Jim. Yes, it's expensive for them to live at this location, but they are safe and cared for, and they love it. Forget the candy, flowers and cards; their happiness is now my favorite part of Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Caring for Healthy Elders is Costly

Today's Orange County Register features an Associated Press article titled, "Long-living, healthy people cost more to care for, study says" and I thought, "I could have told them that." The article is about a Dutch study that found health costs of thin and healthy people in adulthood are more expensive than those of obese people or smokers because the last two groups died sooner than the healthy one. "Ultimately," the article states, "the thin and healthy group cost the most, about $417,000, from age 20 on. The cost of care for obese people was $371,000 and for smokers, about $326,000."

My parents don't smoke and are not obese (at least for the past 25 years). They have had dozens of health issues, but all-in-all, they are quite healthy for their ages. It costs around $12,000 per month to keep them in assisted living with an extra caregiver to help my nearly-blind dad and forgetful mom during daylight hours. Add to those costs the normal everyday stuff such as medications, minor mediacl surgeries and treatments (over and above Medicare), telephone, newspaper, postage, toiletries, cleaning supplies, snacks and beverages for their apartment, dog care, haircuts and styling, clothing, dry-cleaning, etc. etc. etc., and we have a $20,000 per month scenario. Yes, this wreaks havoc on even the best life savings nest eggs.

I've said this before on my blog and I'll say it again today after reading the Register article - BUY LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE for your parents (if they are young enough to qualify) and yourselves. Do it when you are in mid-life! According to AARP, an individual who is 65 and in good health can expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000 per year for a policy covering nursing home care and in-home care, with premiums adjusted for inflation. Google "long term care insurance" and read up on the subject. Ordinary health insurance does not cover in-home caregiver support, assisted living in residential settings, adult day care services, visiting nurses or skilled nursing homes. Long-term care insurance typically covers those costs! Please let my family's painful experience of the high cost of healthy aging be a lesson to you and your family.