Q&A: Group aims to help families solve elder-care puzzle

Published: Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

Nothing seems to overwhelm families of the elderly more than figuring out the issue of senior care: Who needs intervention? What kind? How much? How little? What's available? When is it time to step in to help?

So hard is it to find answers, as new research from the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies shows, that nearly half of adult children have already seen significant impairment in their elderly loved ones before they seek help.

Melissa Marchwick – senior vice president of Sittercity, the Chicago online service that helps young families connect with in-home care for their children – is also general manager of a new, free online service, Years Ahead (www.yearsahead.com), which aims to help families solve the elder-care puzzle before a crisis occurs.

Young families understand from the get-go that they'll need baby sitters, yet it seems to take people by surprise that their aging parents might need help. Why?

It's a role reversal, but there's a lot of connectivity between the two. If you find the right provider, it's so freeing for everyone, including the senior, but it can be a really hard road going there.

We have scripts that are an important tool for people who want to start the conversation. It's brand new, and people don't even know how to start.

So they wait and do nothing?

It surprised me that 31 percent of people in the University of South Florida study have seen signs of the need for senior care but haven't even raised the issue with their elderly parents.

It's a hard topic for people. Nobody wants to think about it. Families are in denial. People say, "I don't know what to look for."

What are some of the areas they should take into account?

The top thing is forgetfulness, short-term memory loss. But you don't go from zero to 24-hour care. You may only need someone to call and make sure you're following your schedule for medications.

The second thing is the loss of balance and falling. A senior companion could just help them get into the car. And a big part of keeping seniors in the home are products like grab bars in the bathroom and elevated toilet seats.

The third-most-common issue is challenges with driving. It's very difficult for people to talk about, but it's one of the most common things for companions to help with.

Senior companions can help maintain their independence, rather than taking it away.

What kind of assistance does your website provide?

The children of aging parents come to our site and find the type of care they need. We guide them to that care.

We find that when most people start the process, they have no idea what's involved. They don't know what their parents need and what's out there. They don't even know the difference between assisted living and home care.

They can just search in their geographical area if they already know what they're looking for. Or if they need more information, we provide a needs assessment on their elders' mobility and cognition. And then we link them with providers.

We also have certified senior advisers on staff whom they can call.

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Read more articles by Anita Creamer

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