Better Alzheimer's Care Kansas City

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Better Alzheimer's Care Kansas City

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Tips for Caregivers

6 Ways to Stay Connected With Seniors When You Can’t Visit

Stay connected with seniors when you can't visit: infographic

The social distancing that keeps our residents safe may be hard on you. Separation leaves some people feeling lonely, anxious or out-of-touch. So, we’ve mustered our creativity to help families stay connected with the seniors they can’t visit.

The following infographic provides a summary of our suggestions. Scroll down for more details.

Stay connected with seniors when you can't visit: infographic

We offer more details and ideas below.

While we’ve tailored our suggestions to meet Care Haven’s safety guidelines, they may be useful to others with at-risk friends or family members. Feel free to share!

1. Visit Virtually

EVERYBODY has a phone these days. Many of us access FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or other apps as well, in order to enjoy each others’ smiling faces.

Our residents and other older adults appreciate either an old-fashioned phone call or a video chat. Just be sure to arrange this ahead of time, so our caregivers can prepare Mom or Dad for your family visit. (Just email our Activities Director, Marie Rogers, at Marie@CareHavenHomes.com.)

Please keep your conversations light and upbeat. Furthermore, it’s better to make frequent short calls than try to hold your loved one’s attention for a long stretch.

2. Between Virtual Visits, Stay In Touch With Seniors The Old-Fashioned Way

Older adults learned to stay connected between visits through the fine art of letter writing. Let’s face it: we all love getting cards and notes via snail mail.

Don’t be intimidated, staring at that empty sheet of paper. A short note — even a postcard — will do. Just include

  1. A salutation (“Dear ____,”)
  2. 3 or 4 sentences
  3. The closing (“Love,”)
  4. Most important, your signature — legible, with an identifier to help if a caregiver needs to read it (Your granddaughter Joan — Your son Jon — Your old friend June — George, your friend from church — Gina, your neighbor from Brookside)

Feel free to add a heart, smiley face or doodle, too. You can even write several notes or cards at the same time and then mail them days or a week apart.

Snail mail: that’s all it takes to stay connected with seniors when you can’t visit.

Speaking of mail, we appreciate it when you send all correspondence to our office, where we can sanitize it before redelivery.

3. Share Your Family’s Artistic Talents

When you can’t visit older adults, enlist both young and old in a creative effort to stay in touch.

  • Remember the preschool masterpiece proudly displayed on the refrigerator? Grandma or Grandpa still has a place of honor for small drawings or uplifting messages from the family.
  • Don’t stop at the visual arts. You can email a video of a vocal solo, piano piece or those first steps and cartwheels. Again, please keep it short — there’s always a replay button for anyone who wants more.
  • At a loss for ideas? Stick to something seasonal. For instance, during April, most people love pictures of birds and flowers, while in December they’d welcome a favorite carol.

4. Care Packages Keep You In Touch When You Can’t Visit Your Favorite Senior

If your loved one could make up a new verse to “My Favorite Things,” what would they include? Consider items that comfort, pamper or amuse them. (We stock our homes with plenty of tasty treats, so please don’t send food items.)

You could send an adult coloring book, a puzzle, a favorite magazine or a compact coffee table book. Make it a small parcel — think “SURPRISE!” rather than “storage.” After all, just as an older adult appreciates brief but frequent visits, they enjoy staying connected with a series of notes and small packages when you can’t visit.

Please do us a favor and sanitize everything in your package before sending it to our office. We’ll do the same before we deliver it. (If you’re considering something like a small tube of lotion, please send only sealed, unopened items at this time.)

5. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Which Is Many, Many Visits!)

Have you tried out photo sites like ShutterflyMpixCVS or Walgreen’s? Many are running specials as people shelter in place.

Consider creating an album filled with pictures of family members or recalling special memories. Take the opportunity to scan and upload treasured wedding photos or vacation pictures, thereby preserving a digital copy. (You can always use them later in other albums as well!)

Our caregivers appreciate it if you also add text to photo books, identifying both people and places. Then we can help your loved one share their memories.

6. Help Seniors Safely Connect When You Can’t Visit

Most of our residents are eagerly share their good fortune with others. (Perhaps on past visits you’ve noticed Mom proudly move your garden bouquet to the living room for all to see.)

She’d still welcome flowers, but you could send the DVD of a classic film or a favorite soundtrack CD instead. The large TV rooms in our homes safely accommodate a special screening.

Have Questions Or Need More Suggestions To Keep Connected With Seniors When You Can’t Visit?

We’re here to help. Just email our Activities Director, Marie Rogers, at Marie@CareHavenHomes.com.

Durable Medical Equipment: Not Your Grandfather’s Wheelchair

JaneMom tires easily. Her feet are sore. She struggles to stand. She wobbles as she walks. Her reflexes are slow, and she can’t catch herself when she trips.

One day a doctor, nurse or social worker hands you a medical order. It says “durable medical equipment” is now “medically necessary.”

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Mom is at increased risk for a serious fall.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “more than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. The risk of falling – and fall-related problems – rises with age.”

People don’t fall just because they’re older. Seniors’ chronic medical conditions or medication side effects usually are at fault. Muscle weakness, balance and gait issues, blood pressure swings, sensory problems, poor vision, dizziness or confusion leave them unsteady. A mobility aid becomes medically necessary, because a fall can be a medical disaster.

According to the NIH

  • Falls send more than 1.6 million older adults to emergency rooms each year.
  • Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of
    • Fractures,
    • Hospital admissions for trauma,
    • Loss of independence and
    • Injury deaths.
  • Hip fractures are among the most frequent and serious injuries – and most likely to
    rob older adults of their independence.

Mom can reduce her risk by removing trip and fall hazards. She can work to strengthen core
muscles, improve balance and control medical symptoms. At some point, that might not be
enough. Then she’ll need durable medical equipment to safely move about.

WHAT IS DURABLE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT?

Let’s break it down, using terms defined by Medicare.

  • To be “durable,” equipment must have an expected life of at least three years.
  • To be “medical equipment,” only someone who is sick or injured would use it.
  • To be eligible for Medicare reimbursement, it must be
    • Intended for use in the home,
    • Prescribed by a doctor, following a recent face-to-face exam, and
    • Prescribed as “medically necessary”: needed for specific medical reasons, following accepted standards of medical practice.

(Other insurers may use different criteria.)

In this post, we focus on mobility aids. While much information applies to canes, walkers,
crutches, power mobility devices and patient lifts, we’re looking specifically at manual
wheelchairs. (Many of the links include information on other mobility aids, too.)

WHO ORDERS THE DURABLE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT MOM NEEDS?

Wheelchair Icon-2

It depends.

If she’s hospitalized for a broken hip, the nurse or social worker who plans her discharge also should arrange for any equipment and supplies she’ll need at home.

If she’s staying in a rehab unit, a physical therapist should assess the need for equipment at home and arrange the ordering.

If she’s in an assisted living setting, things aren’t as clear. Sometimes an observant physician sees the need and writes an order. Or a worried nurse, therapist or family member contacts the doctor with safety concerns. In these cases, there is no streamlined process to obtain and pay for equipment.

In every case, if Mom needs help, a family caregiver needs to serve as her fact-finder and advocate. Are you concerned that she’ll fall without assistance? What advice and support can members of her health care team offer? What equipment would they recommend? Who should you contact to see that it’s ordered and delivered? What are your payment
options?

EVEN IF SOMEONE ELSE SHOULD ASSESS MOM’S NEEDS AND ORDER EQUIPMENT, BE
PREPARED TO FOLLOW UP!

(We also recommend this article from AgingCare.com. It provides helpful background for anyone
who needs durable medical equipment or medical supplies.)

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES MEDICARE WILL PAY FOR MOM’S WHEELCHAIR?

Not great – less likely than in the past – and zero if you don’t follow very specific guidelines. But go ahead. Explore the possibility.

Begin by gathering background information with an Internet search. Learn what sort of questions you should ask. Research the terms of Mom’s insurance coverage.

For Medicare to cover a purchase, Mom’s doctor and medical supplier must be enrolled as Medicare providers/suppliers. If she’s covered by a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure they’re in network, too.

You may be required to use a specific supplier, or to rent a wheelchair before you can buy the one you need.

Don’t commit to buy before you’ve done your homework. When in doubt, call Medicare’s 24-hour help line: 1-800-MEDICARE.

Untitled design-3

WHY WON’T GRANDPA’S OLD WHEELCHAIR DO?

Mobility aids aren’t one size fits all. You can borrow a “loaner” to whisk Mom from the car to the doctor’s office. If you’re using it every day, you need to be certain it “fits.” Otherwise, it’s uncomfortable at best. At worst, it’s dangerous.

  1. Mom must be measured, weighed and assessed to determine
    1. Seat width, height and cushioning,
    2. Armrest type and placement,
    3. Leg and foot rest requirements and
    4. Frame strength.
  2. You’ll need to know how often, and for what length of time, the chair will be used.
  3. Does Mom have the upper body strength and coordination to roll the chair forward
    on her own?
  4. Will others maneuver it through doorways, down hallways and over garden paths?
    Where do Mom’s daily routines take her?
  5. Will her caregivers be able to push her in the chair and to fold, lift, store or transport
    it as necessary?

(Find more details on the United Spinal Association’s website and in Cerebral Palsy’s Online
Guide. There are plenty of other online guides – many produced to sell equipment. Always
consider whether the information is expert, current and unbiased.)

DON’T YOU HAVE A BIG CLOSET FULL OF EXTRA WALKERS AND WHEELCHAIRS?

It’s not unusual to find an extra walker or wheelchair in health care or senior living settings.
They’re meant for temporary or emergency transport. They’re no better suited for Mom’s
long-term use than any other poorly fitted piece of equipment.

At Care Haven, we focus our resources on providing expert Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
We leave the storage and custom fitting of durable medical equipment to capable medical
supply companies.

For a list of area providers, see The Johnson County, Kansas Aging and Accessibility
Directory.

Wheelchair in light

DO I HAVE TO BUY SOMETHING NEW?

No.

You don’t have to buy. Explore whether renting makes sense.

If you buy, you don’t have to buy new – as long as you can find suitable equipment that fits your loved one.

  1. For help finding the right wheelchair, start with a reputable medical supply company. These dealers buy durable medical equipment or take it in trade for newer models. After inspection and reconditioning, they offer it for resale with a limited warranty. (Be certain all guarantees are in writing.)
  2. Buying equipment from a private seller? Ask Mom’s nurse, social worker and physical or occupational therapists what features she’ll need. Ask the seller plenty of
    questions – about the equipment’s past, repair record, past problems. Know where
    to go if it needs to be refurbished.
  3. Look for durable medical equipment exchanges in your area. These programs
    provide assistive devices to people with disabilities or serious medical conditions.
    Most restrict availability based on income requirements. Others serve people with
    specific medical conditions (e.g., multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s).

    The following are local exchanges – and places to donate equipment you no longer need:
    Kansas Equipment Exchange
    MidAmerica Alliance for Access
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