Luckily for Kappe, when her father needed help, she had an old high school friend to turn to: Nancy Stein, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami with a Ph.D. in epidemiology who started Seniority Matters ( www.senioritymatters.com) after struggling with her own parents’ final years.
“Within two days, I got home and [Stein] set up a conference call and helped us piece together a whole system,” Kappe said.
Stein found Gould a geriatric case manager to oversee and coordinate home caregivers and doctors’ visits. She enlisted a grief counselor to help him deal with his wife’s death. She discovered that as a veteran of the Korean War, Gould was entitled to benefits neither he nor his daughters knew he had. She found a financial planner specializing in elder issues who advised the family on how to maximize and protect Gould’s investments, and best use his pension from his job as a New York City School teacher.
She also found ways to make his home safer and easier to live in, including a lift chair. She told the three daughters to get her dad an iPad so he could Skype with them and begin reading again. She advised them to divide the labor, with one sister overseeing medical, another financial and a third legal. And then she created a journal so they could all cross reference and keep track of their father’s needs.
And almost as important, Kappe said, Stein provided reassurance and the voice of reason.
“She’d say yes, you’re in crisis now, but it’s going to end. You’re going to figure out a system and not get into screaming matches with your sisters every day.”
And avoiding such hard times, Stein explained, can be as simple as collecting information and having a plan.
“A lot of times people just don’t know what’s available. Yesterday I was talking to the family of a Holocaust survivor and there’s money available for her. People just don’t know.”
Stein became adept at unearthing such hidden benefits when her own parents’ health began to decline. She was in Miami, they were in California. Thankfully, her work in epidemiology had made her an expert at sleuthing.
“To me, old age was always my father plus 10. It was just never going to happen,” she said. Then her mother died, and his health began to decline.
“He didn’t want to move because his life was there. And as a child, your job isn’t to take over. But as his dementia progressed and other things took place in his life, it became clear I wanted to move him here. Which is a big move. Finally, he agreed to do it if he could live on his own. And still date.”
While she was navigating her father’s care, and encountering a labyrinth of services and resources, Stein decided to start Seniority Matters, a network of prescreened services. She offers both free programs vetted by her staff for a do-it-yourself plan, as well as private counseling and a host of resources on her website.
After hosting a seminar for the University of Miami’s human resources department, Stein met Peter Bartow, a project manager in information technologies at the school. Bartow and his siblings had been caring for his 92-year-old stepmother following his father’s death in 1997.
Like many caring for elderly family members, the family had been taking turns and managing well enough after his stepmother, Mary Eileen Bartow, was confined to a wheelchair about five years ago. Her doctor lived next door to her Silver Bluffs house and had graciously made several late night visits. But in July she was hospitalized with pneumonia and the family knew her care required more than a live-in aide and the generosity of her neighbor.