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January 7, 2012

From the Office: Long-term supports and services: Are they for you?


Daily Star

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The holidays are now behind us and as we reflect on our visits with loved ones and plan to cope with the long winter months ahead, you may be wondering how you or your loved ones will manage.

Are you concerned that you may have difficulty getting to the grocery store or out to do other errands?

Do winter aches and pains make it more difficult to get up and down stairs, do household chores or get a bath?

Are your kids not close enough or too busy to help on a regular basis?

Are you concerned that your family may think you need to go somewhere else to live? Often people don't really want to think about long-term care, as they equate it with having to leave their home and move to a more institutional setting. For some that may be the case, but for others not necessarily so _ getting a little help can be the difference between maintaining independence and not.

Planning and realizing when it is time to accept help are also important pieces in maintaining your independence.

Long-term care is a lot more than going to a nursing home.

Most long-term care is not medical care, but rather a range of everyday services and supports that you may need over a long period of time to meet your basic needs.

These are sometimes called "Activities of Daily Living" and include things such as bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom, eating and getting out of bed or a chair.

Other long-term supports and services include housework, food preparation, shopping, money management and others.

You may ask "Who needs long-term care?" The answer is simple _ anyone who needs help with the above over a period of time.

About 70 percent of those older than 65 will need some type of long-term care over their life time. I believe the important factor is recognizing when you need help and being willing to accept it.

So many times, individuals refuse help because they believe they will be losing their independence when in fact, accepting help with things like doing the laundry, changing the bed and accepting help with shopping will lengthen the time that the individual will be able to live on their own.

So how do you go about finding out what is available, if there are eligibility criteria and how to pay for services? Anyone associated with long-term supports and services recognizes that navigating the system in New York state can be complex and confusing.

New York State Office for the Aging working in conjunction with New York Department of Health established criteria for the development of entities to assist New Yorkers with this process. The result was the establishment of New York Connects offices throughout the state.

All offices should have New York Connects somewhere in its name.

In Otsego County, it is NY Connects of Otsego County. Otsego County resident may call NY Connects at 546-4390 or (855) 547-4390 and obtain unbiased information and assistance accessing long-term supports for themselves or their loved ones.

Having the information to plan appropriately and knowing when to say yes to services can help you or your loved one to remain in their home and/or ease the transition to a higher level of care when necessary.

Another instance when information and planning are essential is when facing hospitalization.

People who are perfectly capable of taking care of all their needs themselves may find that changing quickly when hospitalized for an elective procedure or for an unexpected need.

If you are planning a scheduled hospital stay, get ready ahead of time. Make a list of questions about how long your recovery will take, if you will need help, can you stay alone, if you will need special foods, if you will need physical therapy and when you should schedule your first appointment.

It is also important to let your medical provider know what your living situation is like. Do you live alone? Will someone be available to stay with you? How many steps do you have to get into your home? Do you have a first floor bathroom? Include anything that may affect your discharge.

When ready for discharge, whether from a planned or emergency admission, make sure you or your caregiver know if you have any restrictions, what symptoms to report, who you can call with questions and concerns. Make sure needed equipment, medications and other help are arranged before you go home. Are you taking new medications? Are there side effects you should watch for? How long should you take the medication? Does your prescription plan cover these medications? Who can you call with questions or to arrange other services?

Taking steps to have the information, services and supports you need are an important factor in being able to maintain your independence in the community. Otsego County residents may call the Office for the Aging at 547-4323 or 432-9041 or NY Connects at 547-4390.

Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.