By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN America is aging, and it’s impacting local families.
Just ask Liz Fautsch of Delano, who was a full-time in-home caretaker for Bob Litke, Sr., an elderly friend of the family with Alzheimer’s disease.
“The biggest factor is time commitment,” Fautsch said, who is doing an undergraduate thesis project on long-term care. “Depending on level of disability, it can be 24/7. Many times they cannot be left alone.”
The 65-plus population is now the fastest growing age group, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. As the 1.5 million baby boomers in Minnesota grow older, an increasing number of families will be faced with decisions regarding long-term care that are often financially and emotionally difficult.
After caring for Litke for 18 months, Fautsch said she became concerned for his safety. Because of the Alzheimer’s disease, Litke had the “mind of a small child,” Fautsch said, and required constant supervision. Plus, the house was not equipped with all the safety railings and other necessary equipment.
“The physical handling of that person can also endanger the caregiver,” she said, noting that transferring someone in a wheelchair to a vehicle can be dangerous if not done properly.
“People feel guilty for putting a family member in a nursing home, but so often, it’s the safest place for them,” Fautsch said.
Litke is now living at Golden Living Center in Delano, and Fautsch said she is very satisfied with his care.
“You maybe stop being the caregiver, but you become the care manager,” she said. “And you can still be very involved in their care.”
Katie Otto and her family, who live between Lester Prairie and Winsted, had a similar experience. Otto’s grandmother, Mary Jane McGeever, lived with the family for many years in a separate, but attached, portion of the house.
“She was kind of a second parent,” Otto said. “We never had to get a baby sitter. When I was little, we used to switch off and go to her place every other Friday. She would make us a treat and we’d drink cream soda.”
Now, McGeever lives in an assisted living facility in Minneapolis.
“My mom’s going to school and working, and it got too hectic,” Otto said. “Everyone was pretty much unanimous about it. This was the right thing.”
McGeever suffers from macular degeneration, which makes it difficult for her to see. “We drove her around when she had to go shopping,” Otto said. In Minneapolis, McGeever can take a bus anywhere she needs to go.
“Once someone stops driving, their options get very limited,” Fautsch said. “Their world shrinks, and they become more reliant on other people for transportation. That’s often where it starts.”
Families deciding how to best care for aging loved ones are also faced with challenging economic decisions, Fautsch said.
“There are no inexpensive senior housing options,” she said. While caring for Litke, Fautsch quit her job, resulting in a loss of income. Hiring a caretaker, however, can be expensive as well, Fautsch said.
Barb Anderson, of Montrose, does foster care for seniors in her own home. She charges at least $100 per day, which is still most likely cheaper than a nursing home, she said.
“I think it’s a better alternative to a nursing home,” Anderson, who is licensed to care for four people at a time, said.
She treats her residents like family, taking them out for movies, lunches, and other activities.
Because she doesn’t have any hired staff, Anderson said she works every day of the week, all hours of the day.
“There is no time off,” she said. “You’re working while you’re sleeping.”
“Your time is totally around their schedule,” Fautsch agreed.
“People say they’re never going to a nursing home, but they don’t want to be a burden to their children,” Fautsch added. “You can’t say those two things in the same sentence.”
Litke’s son, Bob Litke, Jr., said it’s important for elderly people to get their affairs in order, such as medical wishes, legal issues, and finances. Litke, Jr. said his father was an organized and intelligent man with a master’s degree in engineering. However, when the Alzheimer’s hit, things changed.
“We found bags of mail in his study that were several years old,” Litke, Jr. said. “We had to piece it all together.”
Thankfully, Litke, Jr.’s father was “very easygoing” and accepted help. “It was a real blessing for us as caregivers,” Litke, Jr. said.
Long-term care is often “one of those things no one talks about until they have to do it,” Fautsch said. But, with Minnesota’s 85 and over population expected to nearly triple between the year 2000 and 2050, it will be harder to ignore.
In order to make good decisions regarding long-term care, Fautsch advises talking about it before it becomes an issue.