Q. I’m an 85-year-old widow, living alone. I have a few friends in the building with whom I do errands and play cards, and they include me on errands and shopping trips since I no longer drive. I take cabs if I need to get my hair done, or to visit friends. In short, I manage pretty well. Last week, I fell. I didn’t break anything but I was a little shaken and I realized that if something happened to me I wouldn’t know how to get real help. I’m organized in other ways: I have long-term care insurance, and I’ve spoken with my children about my healthcare wishes. I’m petrified that if something happens to me no one will know. A contingency plan would put my mind at ease. What can you suggest?
Roz F., Clearwater
A. I hear from many readers like you, who are living well independently but fear the day when a fall or illness will sideline them without having contingency plans in place for assistance. You are wise to plan ahead so that everything can go smoothly and you can count on getting the best possible care as soon as you need it.
Here are five suggestions to get you started:
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▪ If you’re at risk for falling, consider getting a life-alert device. There are many services to choose from. Not only will you receive immediate help, they will alert friends and family members whom you designate in advance. Wear it like a cherished piece of jewelry!
▪ I highly recommend taking the time now to identify a home health company that you can call if and when you should need in-home assistance. Give them a call, introduce yourself and schedule a time when they can meet with you. Make sure you do your homework and check them out carefully. You will rest easy knowing that you have found a team of people that you have confidence in and that you can call at a moment’s notice.
▪ I would also consider doing the same research to find a geriatric care manager who would coordinate all your in-home care, check on you as often as necessary and provide medical oversight to your aides.
▪ Create an emergency binder that includes medical and family contacts, a list of medications you are on (including dosage, prescribing physician and medical condition); copies of insurance and legal documents such as HIPAA forms and Health Care Directives, so that in the event of an emergency this information will be immediately available to your friends and family. Make sure your children have copies of all important documents and information and that key individuals know where this binder is kept. (I recommend keeping it well-marked and visible in the kitchen.)
▪ Finally, I love the idea of a buddy system. Talk to your friends about forming such a group. I bet they are on the same page as you are when it comes to personal safety and planning for the future.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.