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92-year-old Nellie Gushue succumbed to injuries sustained from a fall down the stairs in 2007. With an advance care care, her granddaughter believes Gushue might still be alive today.

Sandwich generation needs help caring for aging parents

By Mike Pearson, News Staff

For Andrea Johnstone, a highlight of the holiday season was a Christmas Eve visit to her grandmother’s house for festive food and fellowship.

At 92, Nellie Gushue was still in strong physical and mental health. Widowed for more than a decade, she continued to live independently in her Stoney Creek home.

Then in 2007, Gushue’s health took a sudden turn after she suffered a fall down a flight of stairs. She wasn’t found for another 24 hours and succumbed to her injuries in hospital just a few days later.

Looking back, Johnstone believes her grandmother might still be alive today if someone had completed a falls prevention checklist with the family and made them aware of home safety and mobility equipment.

“I have no doubt in my mind that had someone gone in the home, she probably would still be with us today,” said Johnstone.

Years later, Johnstone and business partner Sandy Davies have launched DirectIn Healthcare Consulting Inc. The company doesn’t provide frontline healthcare services like nursing and home care, but instead works with families to connect seniors with the best resources, including mobility aids, meal services and supportive care. DirectIn can also offer information on long-term care homes or assisted living residences to help find suitable accommodations for each client’s unique needs.

For Gushue, remaining in the home was the highest priority.

“She was just one of many people who insisted she didn’t want to go to a retirement or long-term care facility,” Johnstone recalled. “It’s  important for families to take some initiative to ensure their elderly parents are able to remain in the home safely. Unfortunately, that did not happen in her circumstance.”

According to Statistics Canada, seniors make up the country’s fastest growing age group. It’s a trend that’s expected to continue for the next several decades due to low fertility rates, increased life expectancy and the aging baby boom population. In 2011, Canada had five million residents aged 65 and older. By 2036, the country is expected to have more than 10 million seniors.

For the so-called sandwich generation, caring for elderly parents can often be overlooked as families raise their own children.

To help keep aging parents safe in the home, Johnstone urges all families to complete a care plan in advance, to ensure elderly parents receive an appropriate level of care, while honouring their wishes.

When it comes to accessing home care, services can be arranged by the provincially-funded Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), or private agencies. But navigating the system can be difficult.

“There is so much information out there, but so much of it is misinformation,” said Johnstone.

The local CCAC offers a list of accredited service providers offering a range of options from nursing care to respite services.  The Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant CCAC provides a complete listing of accredited firms on its website at healthcareathome.ca/hnhb/en. The organization can also be contacted toll-free at 1-800-810-0000.

Understanding that families may only have a short time to make a decision, Johnstone said DirectIn can help families understand the range of services available.

After meeting with families and gathering the pertinent information, the company will compile an advance care plan within a 24-48 hour time span.

“We facilitate the questions the children need to ask their aging parents to  help in making the choices for their future care,” said Johnstone. In addition to health care questions,  children should also assess their parents’ financial situation, power of attorney, wills, and review the contents of any safety deposit boxes.

Johnstone and her staff will personally meet with retirement home staff to ensure each client receives the best possible care specific to his or her needs.

DirectIn can confirm whether a home care agency offers nursing care or just the services of a personal support worker. The company will determine whether a firm is accredited and whether its employees are bondable.

“There really is a difference in the level of home care and the services offered,” said Johnstone. “We make recommendations on that back to the family.”

Funding for assistive devices is available through the CCAC and the Ministry of Health. If your elderly mother or father needs a power wheelchair or a stair lift, Johnstone recommends taking advantage of federal government tax credits. The Home First program offers a $1,600 annual tax credit for home modifications to assist the elderly. Modifications can include lowering your kitchen countertops, installing hand bars in the tub or installing a walk-in bathtub. Johnstone said falls prevention is the most important initiative to keep seniors safe in the home.

If a loved one has dementia, finding a suitable long-term care facility is often the only option. Some homes are older than others and wait lists come into play.

Elsie Ubriaco, placement coordinator at Hamilton’s CCAC, compares a long-term care facility to a person. Both are complex and include much more than you’ll see at a first glance.

Keeping in mind the wait lists, Ubriaco urges families to apply to a long-term care home only after touring the facility and seeing what it has to offer.  Instead of showing up unannounced, call the facility and set up a tour. Families can choose a minimum of one to a maximum of five long-term care homes.

Other considerations include activities for residents, whether the home allows pets, staffing levels, transportation and the home’s proximity to the resident’s family members.

Families should also take note of what kinds of rooms are available.  Ubriaco says many families will opt for a private room if they can afford it, but that’s not always the best option.  In some cases, shared rooms are a better fit for residents.

Selecting a retirement home can also be a long and gruelling task.

Johnstone and her associates can take care of the legwork by meeting with retirement home staff and determining the level of care available, along with information on activities, room options and transportation options. If clients want to get a closer look, DirectIn can arrange for a tour of the home.

For information on DirectIn, visit www.directinhealth.com or contact Andrea Johnstone at 289-921-0088 or ajohnstone@directinhealth.com.

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