With the Covid-19 pandemic, nursing homes closed their doors to visitors to protect the health of their elderly patients. Unfortunately, elderly people are emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, and they suffered from feelings of isolation from their loved ones. This prompted the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to ask states to allow compassionate care visits at long-term elderly care facilities since March 11, 2021.
This does not cover only residents nearing the end of life. It also applies to newly admitted residents who have difficulty adjusting to the new environment, residents with symptoms of emotional distress such as frequent crying and not speaking frequently, residents who neglect to eat or drink and have weight loss or dehydration, and residents who are grieving. The visits can be from family members or other sources of comfort such as clergy or people who give spiritual or religious support, and they can hug and hold hands with the elderly resident. Visitors are not required to have Covid-19 testing or vaccination.
According to The New York Times, as of June 1, 2021, 31 percent of all Covid-19 fatalities in the U.S. were among residents and employees of long-term care facilities for the elderly. This means more than 184,000 fatalities.
Aging at Home
Because of the developments in nursing homes, many of the elderly and their families are deciding on home care instead. This is a huge responsibility for families because they need to ensure that the home is elderly-friendly. This means that the elderly person’s bedroom is on the first floor and is near a full toilet and bath equipped with handrails and a safety shower seat. There must be no steps throughout the first floor that can cause tripping. The entrance to the home must not have steps or must have a gradual slope compatible with the use of a wheelchair, walker, or cane. All doorways must also be wide enough to accommodate mobility-assistance equipment.
If the elderly family member needs assistance in daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and taking medications, a family member must be assigned to help. If the elderly family member is bedridden and needs feeding, there must be care around the clock. Family members can take turns based on their work and school schedule. They can hire home assistance caregivers to cover time gaps. Alternatively, they can hire a caregiver full-time.
If the elderly can still live independently, some families build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) beside their home. It gives the elderly person privacy and the dignity of self-reliance while still being close to the rest of the family.
The Elderly’s Right to Self-Determination
As long as an elderly person is still in command of full mental capacities, they have the right to determine where to live, how to live, and what treatments to undergo when ill. The family members must always defer to their decisions as long as these are feasible. Most of the elderly choose to live with or near family instead of an institution that can be impersonal.
What the elderly and their families often forget to discuss is the type of healthcare the elderly person wants to have when he or she becomes mentally incapable of deciding. It is essential that while a person is mentally stable, he or she must put in writing the details of these decisions. For instance, whether they want resuscitation if the heart stops.
Do they want to be tube-fed when incapable of eating? Do they want to stay alive through machines when brain-dead? The elderly must create this living will with the assistance of a lawyer who specializes in this area of the law. The lawyer can make the document much more comprehensive by posing questions that the elderly may not have thought of.
With the help of the same lawyer, the elderly must appoint a health surrogate and get that person’s agreement. The surrogate will ensure compliance with all the instructions in the elderly person’s living will once the elderly becomes mentally incapacitated. If a medical situation that is not covered in the will comes up, the surrogate will decide based on how the elderly would have decided. This makes it vital for the elderly to choose a surrogate who is fully trusted and who understands how he or she thinks.
It Pays to Plan
Everyone grows old, and there is always a possibility that a person will become mentally incapable of making decisions for themselves at some point in life. This is why there is a need to plan for such a time. It is the right of the elderly to live their later years according to their wishes.