Know road signs, resources to aid aging loved ones

Posted September 10
Updated September 13

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I’d drive over to visit my grandmother in Smithfield. I’d plant annuals in her garden. We’d go out to lunch at K&W. I’d take her to the doctor. She always insisted I drive her car, a 1975 green Fleetwood Cadillac. One day, soon after we pulled onto Route 210, the dashboard lit up with five red warning lights. Alarmed, I looked over at Grandmother. She just smiled and said, “Oh, honey, don’t you worry. They go off after a minute.”

We were lucky that time.

Sunday is Grandparents Day, and this memory seemed an apt entry into the world of caring for our grandparents, parents, neighbors and friends as they age. We might see the warning signs long before a crisis hits, but how many of us know what to do? And how many of us then go the extra mile to do it?

While hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually on helping parents prepare for their first child, far, far less is targeted at helping any of us prepare for the aging and decline of a loved one or even ourselves.

There’s the old adage, “You don’t learn something until you have to.” Well, “have to” is now upon many of us.

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“We are at the beginning of a ‘silver tsunami,’” Susan McGuire, senior care coordinator at Resources for Seniors, said recently.

Currently, 48 million Americans are 65 or older. By 2037, that number is expected to reach 79 million. By 2035, one in three American households will be headed by someone 65 or older. And while places like Tampa and Tucson still have the highest percentage of seniors living in their cities, at 19 and 18 percent respectively, Raleigh is the second-fastest city in the nation at going gray. (Atlanta is the first.) Seniors are moving here for the lower cost of living and good healthcare, certainly, but the most prevalent reason is to live closer to children and/or grandchildren. Maybe you fall in this category? Or maybe you are one of the adult children caretakers?

In either case, there’s a good chance that you don’t know what to do as care needs arise, or if you have an idea, you don’t know where to turn. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of new and established businesses serving elders in this area. (There are over 200 home health agencies in Wake County alone.)

In this series, I intend to give readers knowledge, tools, resources and stories that can help them devise the most constructive ways to act in the best interest of a declining loved one or themselves. I will feature local resources, interviews with wise voices working in the field, and stories I’ve encountered in my own practice as an elder consultant. I also hope to tackle your most pressing questions.

So adjust your seat, check your rear view mirror and buckle in. My hope is that, with the information provided here, when you run into the warning signs, you won’t reflexively avert your eyes – as I did so many years ago. You’ll have some tools in your tool box. My hope, maybe even more so though, is to provide a window into this stage of life – both its gifts and its challenges, because chances are the majority of us will arrive here one day ourselves.

Liisa Ogburn is an elder consultant and founder of Aging Advisors NC, as well as a writer whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Psychology Today, Academic Medicine, the News and Observer and other places.

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  • Charles Brown Sep 14, 2:08 p.m.
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    Need to address people who have parents with no money and on medicare/medicaid it is a whole different world if you can pay vs medicaid. Not many choices. Need to find places to stay due to not much help in finding places for assisted living or memory care. If not with us dealing with issue a long time it is a nightmare for those starting down this road.