Wednesday, November 26, 2014

That's Grandma, That's Mom...

I arrived yesterday and Mom was sitting in her wheelchair, holding her baby and looking quite perky!  She asked who I was and I told her I am her daughter, Jeannie, to which she replied, "Oh really?" with a big smile.

Since she was in her wheelchair already, we cruised around the halls a few times and she watched as I took down her old torn shower curtain and replaced it with a new pretty curtain with blue flowers.  Once I had it hanging, she declared it "pretty" and we continued our cruising.

We settled after a bit and she told me that "she" would be by.  I thought she was talking about my sister so I pulled out my tablet to show her a picture.  I pointed out my sister, Pat (to the right of Mom below) and Mom told me yes, that was her. 

I continued to go through the family pictures, something I do quite often. This time she identified some, commented on others and a few times I had to keep from laughing.  :)

As almost always, when she saw the photo above, she immediately said, "That's Daddy." The next photo followed and she said, "That's Momma."

The next photo is always the picture below of Mom with her Daddy and Momma. Sometimes she's unsure when she sees it but typically she knows it is the three of them. It was one of those days when she knew.

The next photo sometimes stumps her but this time she immediately said, "That's Grandma."

I continued through the pictures, Mom sometimes reaching out her finger to move the picture around or point to a particular person.  Then I brought up the picture below.

I struggled to stifle my chuckles as she pointed first to me (center front) and very clearly said, "That's Grandma" and then pointed to my sister and also very clearly said, "That's Mom."  I love her!!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Standing up, falling down, edema here, edema there…

Life goes on, even for my 98 year old mom, but not without its ups and downs.  I just received the fourth call in less than a month telling me Mom was found on the floor in her room.  They haven’t seen her fall because it was always at night.  Last night they heard a sound and went in to check, finding her on her side near her recliner and wheelchair. As all the times before, they couldn’t find any injuries and she just wanted help getting up.  Thankfully, it seems she is still bouncing.

Falls during the day aren’t an issue at this point because she stays in her wheelchair or rocking chair in the living room.  She is watched over there and as I’ve said before, from her vantage point in either chair, she can watch everything that happens there including all the comings and goings.  If the activities don’t keep her interest, she just snoozes - by that I mean falling sound asleep.  :)

We aren’t sure what has her getting up at night.  They speculate that maybe she had to go to the bathroom but we don’t know because she has typically fallen by her bed.  Last night she was headed away from her bathroom given where she fell.  If the timing continues, I may contribute it to the cycle of the moon because the falls have occurred within a day or two of the full or new moon.

Floating edema is another interesting thing we’ve experienced with Mom.  Back in the 1970s she sprained her ankle while she and Daddy were camping.  That ankle always had a tendency to swell after that injury.  Fast forward to the last couple years and the ankle was swollen all the time.  Last year when she was diagnosed with a mass in her abdomen, both ankles and her feet were swollen.  The doctor thought it might be an indication that the presumed cancer was affecting her lymph nodes thereby causing fluid retention.

Interestingly, shortly after I bought her Foamtread slippers in May of this year, the swelling went away.  Then suddenly her left hand swelled up like a balloon!  The nurse at the facility initially thought it was cellulitis but we decided that wasn’t the case because the symptoms didn’t mesh.

Over the summer, her feet continued to be fine while her hand would swell and cause a bit of pain here and there, then suddenly, it would be almost normal.  Since the end of September, her hand and feet have been normal.  ??  When I visited the other day, her right ankle was swollen again although just a bit.  It’s one of the mysteries of Mom!

Last weekend a few of us were able to attend the Thanksgiving dinner provided by the facility. They provided a wonderful meal and I watched my sister very lovingly and patiently feed Mom the meal.  Mom can still feed herself but gets confused at times about how to go about it and I know my sister helps her eat when she visits in the late afternoon. Watching them at the Thanksgiving meal, I could tell that Mom enjoys the help and attention and it made me feel good to see the connection between the two of them.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I love the brief moments of clarity…

Mom’s routine continues.  Her aide awakens her in the morning and gets her dressed and then she has breakfast in the dining room with all of the residents.  After that, the majority of the twelve residents gather in the living room for the morning news, exercise and one or more activities.  Mom sits in her rocking chair there with a view of the entire area.  Although she doesn’t participate in the activities any longer, she holds her baby and watches everything happening around her as the morning progresses, snoozing here and there.  Twice each week her morning routine is disrupted briefly for a shower which makes her tired and she snoozes more.
Snoozing after her morning shower.
Lunch time arrives and typically she is ready to go in the dining room and eat.  The times she refuses lunch are very few and far between.  She may be 98 but she still eats well, just small portions.

There are more activities in the afternoon either in the living room or the TV area.  Her preferred seating in either area allows her a view of the comings and goings of the staff and visitors.  It’s very different from when she lived with my brother and later, me.  At our homes she spent all of her time looking out the windows, watching everything happening in the neighborhood.  Now her neighborhood is indoors and has enough activity to keep her interested.

Five o’clock comes and it’s time for dinner.  Again, Mom eats well.  My sister reports that sometimes she has to remind her how to start eating but she seems to take off well once started.

Evening is more time for sitting and watching until it’s time to get ready for bed.  Days flow one into another with the routine. 

While her days may be consistent, we never know exactly what we’ll find day to day.  Mom, for the most part, is past her combative stage, although it will pop up here and there, mainly at shower time.  She is definitely past her anxious stage – at least what seemed anxious for my very laid back Mom.  She typically smiles at everyone and I hear that she is pleasant.  I know when I arrive she is always pleasant.  She just doesn’t always know who I am.

I always carry my tablet and I use it to show Mom pictures of family.  I start with her “momma” and “daddy” because she can always recognize at least one of them, usually both.  I move on to pictures of Daddy or her and Daddy and mention that he is her husband and my daddy with each picture.  I tell her that she is my mommy and I am her daughter.  Her response varies each time but if she didn’t recognize me as “hers” when I arrived, she usually knows by the time I leave.

If things are going well, I’ll move on to pictures of me and my siblings and I go through the names.  I was at that point the other day when, in a brief moment of clarity, Mom looked at me and said, “You were named after my mom.”  Indeed I was!  My middle name comes from my grandma’s middle name!

She is seldom “here” but when she is, it pulls at my heartstrings.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Recap of Hospice Lessons Learned…

As I have said, hospice is no longer a wonderful group of people supporting those that are dying and their loved ones.  Hospice is now big business and most are for profit, not non-profit.  The more money they bring in, the better.  The people working in them may have hearts of gold but they are driven by their corporations to bring in more clients and if it appears they might be needed then they are helping, right?  Important to remember when speaking to hospice representatives:  if they don’t fully understand their services, the charges for those services, and how they will be paid, how will you?
The one line that angers me more than any other when talking to a hospice representative now is, “Well, Medicare pays that amount per diem so that’s what we charge…”   It doesn’t seem to matter if the actual services provided warrant the per diem charges. 

Think about it – we hear so much about how long Medicare and Social Security will be able to support the population.  At the same time, corporations have learned to work the system and cause a constant drain on Medicare funds for unneeded services.

So, when considering hospice, first make sure you have answers to these questions…


Hospice is supposed to be called in when your loved one has only six months or less to live.  They are supposed to help you cope with the impending loss and help keep your loved one comfortable until the end of life.

Alzheimer’s and the other forms of dementia don’t run on timetables so how do you know?  Keep an open conversation with your loved one’s physician.  If they have been following your loved one for a long time, they should have an idea when the end game is coming or there is a lot of pain to be managed and hospice would be helpful.   

You don’t need hospice for routine care of your loved one if they are already living in a nursing home or assisted living facility and receive routine care from the staff. For example, Mom takes no meds and has no pain to be managed.  She is still somewhat ambulatory and all of her needs can, and are, provided by the staff of the assisted living facility. 

Hospice provides those services (showering/bathing, etc.) these days and if your loved one is at home, those services may be necessary and much appreciated. 


Hospice representatives assume if you are 65 or over that you have Medicare and hospice will be covered.  There are many who do not have the Medicare coverage needed to pay for hospice!  If your loved one has never paid into Social Security, nor had a spouse that paid in, your loved one may not be covered.

Daddy is a good example of that situation.  As a teacher, he was considered a state employee.  Neither Social Security nor Medicare deductions were taken from his paycheck.  Instead, he had a pension that would pay instead of Social Security and he had a health plan that would stay with him throughout his life.  Mom was a homemaker but as his spouse, she was the beneficiary of his pension and his health plan even after his death.

Even though I worked in a health insurance company for over 20 years, I didn’t know that Mom didn’t have full Medicare.  I knew she had the health plan, but she also has a Medicare card.  I now know there is a difference between her card and others.  Her card has an “M” at the end of her social security number and states Medical (Part B) Benefits Only.  Because she’s never been hospitalized, I didn’t realize that she only had physician coverage until the bills for hospice started coming in. 


When I signed the paperwork for hospice, the representative evidently was assuming Medicare would pay and I didn’t know better.  There was a page where she could list the insurance copays, deductibles and out of pocket maximums but she marked them with zeros.  The bottom of the page had a table of services at per diem, per hour or per visit fees but there were no fees listed and the section had a line through it.  Talk about misleading!!

Don’t let a hospice representative lead you by the nose as I did!  Make sure they fill in the actual fees that will be charged and what the out of pocket costs will be, if any.  Know what you are getting into before you sign.  I trusted them and was blindsided.

I don’t want to go without giving an update on Mom.  She’s doing well as always and takes care of her “baby” every day.  She doesn’t always know I belong to her but she’ll smile and loves hugs and kisses.  She’s still happy to see great grandchildren when they visit, too.  :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hospice is gone! I just wish I had learned that lesson quicker…

I continued my efforts to investigate the cost of Mom’s care.  As I said before, the facility had just a minor glitch and quickly fixed it.  I then started the audit of the hospice charges of almost $3,800 per month.  My first step was to ask the hospice provider for an itemized bill from the beginning of the year when they took over Mom’s care. 

After more than a week and emails back and forth, I finally received a print out of the charges.  Sounds good, right?  Nope.  Their “itemized” bill just showed daily charges of almost $121 per day for each day of the month.  Oh my goodness!  For that amount, they should have been with her daily for at least half a day!

My next step was to request all of Mom’s medical and care records.  Although they already had my paperwork showing that I have health care power of attorney, they insisted I fill out a form for their records.  I can understand that in other situations but in this case, I filled in my name as the both the requester and the approver of the request because Mom is unable to do that – hence the HCPOA paperwork that was done some years ago.

Once they received the form, they were willing to send me the records and I asked that they email or fax them to me.  My contact came back to say they would have to overnight them because there were more than 300 pages.  When I questioned it, she told me that “there’s been a lot done”.  Hmmm…

So I received the package and reviewed the pages.  It really didn’t take long once I figured out that each encounter generated between 5 and 10 pages filled with the same information.   The actual visits to Mom totaled about 14 a month with individual visits lasting typically less than one hour:
  •          Showering provided twice a week
  •          A nurse visit once a week
  •          A visit from the chaplain once a month
  •          A visit from the social worker once a month

So, that comes to about $270 an hour.

As I’ve said before, hospice is a good thing in many instances.  Hospice provides family counseling, medication and case management for the patient, and other services.  For a family going through the journey of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia for the first time, it would be helpful to guide them through the later stages.

For my family, this isn’t our first rodeo.  We lived it with Daddy and Mom, as Daddy’s caregiver, set the best example possible for us to follow now.  We’re ready for what comes whether it be tomorrow or five years from now.  We just want Mom happy and comfortable until that time comes and given that Mom doesn’t take any medication and isn’t having pain from the mass in her abdomen, the care she receives 24/7 from the staff at her home is all she needs.

So, I signed the order today to stop hospice.  Over the past week, after discussions with the management at Mom’s home and her caregiver, I have purchased a wheelchair, a rolling shower commode, and a gel mattress overlay for the bed they will provide for Mom.  I purchased all that for less than 13% of just one month’s hospice charge!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

And she sleeps...

When I left to visit Mom this morning, I planned to manicure her nails.  They have gotten very long but I've been visiting with little one(s) in tow and haven't had the opportunity to do the job.  My sister always carries a file and she keeps them smooth but Mom's nails, like mine, grow unbelievably fast.  Must be where I get that trait.

So, I arrived today to find Mom sound asleep in her favorite rocking chair, legs sprawled out in front of her.  It was so cute.  She had slid down a bit and every once in awhile, she would use her feet to rock - just a bit.  I touched her and rubbed her arm a bit, even gave her a kiss, but she didn't wake up.  She opened her eyes at one point and saw me but I don't think it really registered because she fell right back.  All the while, she was sitting right next to the computer and speakers that the RNA was using to play the Price is Right and Who Wants to be a Millionaire with the residents.  She was not sitting in a quiet area! 

I got out the clippers and file thinking that the manicure would wake her up.  Nope!  I did both hands, clipped and filed, and she never opened her eyes.  Changed position slightly at one point but didn't wake.  

As she slipped a little lower in the chair, the RNA and I worked together to lift her and put the chair cushions in their proper place.  Still she didn't wake.  I rubbed her back before leaning her back into the chair.  Still didn't wake.  God love her!  I know I do!
Sound asleep but all manicured!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hospice is good when needed but not in Mom's case...

Mom continues to be the same - good vitals, eats well, happy to sit, watch and snooze.  Holds her baby all the time and, as I found again today, is very surprised at the weight of a real baby when she has the opportunity to hold one.  :)
Enjoying her great granddaughter again - and boy is she heavy!
I continue on my endeavor to minimize her expenses without compromising her care and happiness.

I finished the audit of her ALF expenses and found only a small error over the course of the three years.  It was recent and just an oversight.  Hospice took over bathing Mom and the ALF forgot to remove that from the service plan.  They were very responsive to my concerns and they are crediting the charges.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the oxygen machine returned.  Mom had never used it and my research revealed that there is now a monthly oxygen charge whether it is used or not.  It used to be that charges were for actual use.  Big change!

Looking further into the charges and services provided by hospice, I was shocked to find claims submitted to Mom's insurance company in amounts between $3,400 and $3,800 a month!  Oh my goodness!  They check her vitals weekly and bathe her twice a week.  She takes no meds and requires nothing medically.  What in the world are we paying for??

I'm still trying to find that answer but while I'm waiting for an itemized bill, I've asked the ALF to see if there are any services that hospice provides that they can't.

It would be different if Mom had medical issues other than the possibility of a hemorrhage that gives her no pain.  Hospice is not with her 24/7 like the ALF staff is so the likelihood of them being on site if Mom hemorrhages is slim to none.  It is far more likely that anything that happens will be handled by the ALF staff and Mom is used to them.

While hospice is a good thing in many cases, Mom just isn't one of those cases.  I anticipate eliminating their services in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

She's still walking!

I now take care of my four month old granddaughter every day and yesterday I took her to visit Mom.  Mom was so happy to see her!  She told her, "Grandma loves you!"

We arrived just as Stephanie was getting ready to bathe Mom.  Mom was in her rocking chair in the living room rather than her wheelchair so we stood her up and she walked with Stephanie back to her room.  That was quite a way but I think seeing her great granddaughter put a spring in her step.  :-)

Mom didn't complain about starting the process but once her clothes were removed, she started her normal fussing.  She was shaking her fist at Stephanie and I stepped in, telling her that she had to have a bath and it would be okay.  I started the water and got it warm to show her she would like it.  She calmed down but said she would just leave!  I fell back to a couple of our old conversations, telling her that she could leave when God's ready for her but until then Grandma (her mama) said she had to have a bath.  It doesn't always work but it did again this time!

Although not a long visit, it was a good one.  Mom didn't know names but she recognized our relationship and had lots to talk about.  I love those kind of visits!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What’s really needed as Mom turns 98?

Last weekend we had an open house at the ALF for Mom’s 98th birthday.  She was thrilled to see everyone and definitely enjoyed her ice cream and cake!  The day was sunny and bright and although it was too chilly for her to go out in the courtyard, we were able to keep the door open and family members were able to check out the facility’s courtyard and enjoy the sunshine.

Leading up to and now after her birthday, I can’t help but wonder what is really needed for Mom.  She spends her days in her wheelchair or her favorite rocking chair holding her favorite baby doll.  She enjoys sitting where she can view the entire room and into the dining area so she can see everyone who walks in the door and what the various workers and residents are doing.  When she is awake, that is.  She snoozes a lot.

Happy day when she gets to hold a great grandchild!

She’s not able to stand for very long and can walk only short distances with help.  That, and the fact that she has forgotten all the ways to care for herself, means she has to have help with dressing, baths and toileting.  At times she even needs to be reminded how to eat.

She’s definitely where she needs to be – in an assisted living facility where they help her with all those “activities of daily living” and understand that her memories are fleeting.  Her memories come and go from moment to moment but she is happy in her “home”.

Living in a facility is very expensive whether it is a nursing home or an assisted living facility.  The decision to place a loved one requires a lot of financial planning and quite often funding from Medicaid.  Not all facilities accept Medicaid and we knew Mom’s did not when we placed her there.  We had to plan for Mom’s expenses to be paid from her income as Daddy’s surviving spouse.  We really like the facility and so does Mom so as time goes on and fees rise, it’s our job to find ways to keep her there and also watch over the expenses she is charged to make sure they are needed.

Late last year I submitted paperwork to the VA to apply for Aid and Attendance benefits for Mom.  As the spouse of a veteran who served during a war (Daddy was in WWII), she is entitled to a monthly benefit.  She received her first payment on April 1 and while it is not a large amount, it helps.

I’ve recently audited the charges from the ALF and my next step is to look into hospice costs.  When hospice was first suggested, it was because there was suspicion of a problem in her abdomen and finding the mass set the hospice wheels in motion.  It seemed at the time to be initiated for a good reason and I was told that Medicare would pay for it all.  That might be true for most but as it turns out, not for Mom.  Daddy was a teacher and she is covered under his medical as his survivor.  The only Medicare they were entitled to was Part B (physician) which doesn’t cover hospice.  The medical plan is actually the primary payer for Mom’s hospice expenses.

Here we are, seven months later and there has been no change in Mom’s condition.  It fluctuates as it always has but nothing out of the normal range.  She’s not in pain, not on any medication and they’ve put an oxygen machine in her room that she has never used.  Her vitals are always good when the hospice nurse comes once a week.  I know she has a ticking time bomb in her abdomen that could hemorrhage at any moment but does that really require more watching than she gets from the ALF nurse and aides?  My siblings and I joke that Mom will still be here to see 105!

It’s possible that the hospice expenses are less than if the same services are provided by the ALF so it may make sense to have hospice overseeing her care given her condition.  It’s something I will begin investigating this week and checking to see if Mom needs everything provided – I’m thinking the oxygen can go if nothing else.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The secret to a long life? Keep getting out of bed…

Mom’s routine has settled again with the new hospice provider.  Stephanie comes three times a week – twice to bathe her and once to check in.  Lea, her nurse, comes once a week to check on her.  The social worker stops by and so does the minister.  The minister does a little service once a month and he has Mom sit right next to him for it.  He knows about her many years of being active in her church and uses that to make a connection between them.  She seems to feel right at home sitting there by him.

Mom has also won the fight against pneumonia again.  It developed at the beginning of January when the confusion over the hospice change delayed the administration of Mucinex to help her fight what started as a head cold.  It took a few weeks but she is doing much better and the cough seems to have abated. 

While she is definitely doing better, I notice that each time she battles something it is taking a little bit more of her.  She spends a lot of time snoozing now, sometimes to the point that you think she can’t be comfortable sleeping so hard sitting up.  She wakes up and talks a little, takes care of the baby she is almost always holding, and checks on what is happening around her before nodding off again.
Mom meets her newest great grandchild.
She still eats well at her meals although she is quick to let them know if there is something on her plate that she doesn’t want.  Much like my 5 year old grandson, she refuses to touch anything else on her plate until the offending food is removed.

The wheelchair has become a regular part of her life and she spends a lot of time in it but she still walks with help when she’s feeling chipper.  She’s certainly not ambulatory like she used to be but she hasn’t decided to give up!  They keep an alarm on her (a box attaches to her chair with a cord that attaches to her clothes) to alert them at those times when she decides she wants to get up on her own.  They recently changed the type of alarm when they found her walking around one day holding the box in her hand so it wouldn’t go off.  Leave it to Mom!  

Watching the changes in Mom’s life unfold, it dawned on me recently that there is a reason Mom has lived such a long life.  Each and every morning, she gets out of bed for a new day.  It doesn’t matter if it is a good day or bad or if she is dealing with a sickness such as diarrhea or pneumonia, she gets out of bed.  I don’t remember a day in my life when she has stayed in bed for any reason.

Daddy was the same way.  He had gotten up every day of his life to greet the new day, good or bad, even when Alzheimer’s was getting the best of him.  A week before he lost his ability to walk and went into the nursing home, he ran a quarter mile and jumped three fences.  It took two more years of greeting each new day in the nursing home, unable to walk, before Alzheimer’s finally wore him down.

I’m thankful that Mom and Daddy gave us that example.  I have been retired since I left work to take care of Mom but I still get up at 6:00 am every morning, Monday through Friday, to start my day and help my husband get a good start on his.  I “sleep in” on the weekends until 7:00 am, sometimes 7:30, but I can’t sleep later because I just feel the need to get the day started.  I hope I’ve passed on that need to get started to my children...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Check out your hospice provider! Are they covered under your plan?

Mom was put on hospice in September.  At the time, her assisted living facility offered their parent company’s hospice services and I thought that sounded easy and that communication would be improved because they were under the same umbrella.  There were hiccups along the way but my job is to straighten it all out and straighten I did.  The train appeared to be running smoothly on the track.

Suddenly this week, we experienced a derailment!  On Monday, December 30, I received a call from hospice saying there was a problem with billing.  They had not been able to submit any billing for the services.  I was told that they would look into it and find a new hospice provider and it would be a seamless transition for Mom.
On Tuesday morning, December 31, I received another call stating that Mom’s insurance provider was indicating that Mom’s coverage ended that day.  Having worked at a health insurance company for 20+ years, I said that was correct and if you call tomorrow (January 1) they will also say coverage ends as of December 31 – of 2014.  She was trying to discover what hospices were participating providers for Mom’s plan.  Anticipating that, I had already looked and was able to give her the name of a hospice that was covered.
Maybe I was being na├»ve but in all my years of working in the health insurance field, I have never known a provider of any kind to begin treatment without checking to ensure they were a participating provider and would be paid for their services.  Evidently I just found one that doesn’t…  You would think that it would have taken less than three months for them to realize they were unable to submit a claim?
Just as I was sitting down to eat lunch that day I received a call from the new hospice provider.  The prior hospice provider’s three month oversight suddenly required an emergency on my part and the part of the new hospice provider.  I was asked to squeeze in a trip to Mom’s to sign papers prior to my commitment to my grandchildren that afternoon for New Year’s Eve.  Lovely!
The changeover was much more relaxed.  The first day with the first provider I felt like a train was running over me – not because of Mom’s diagnosis but because of the number of stressed out hospice people all there talking to me at once.  I went home exhausted that day!
This time Mom and I sat with one nurse and I signed the papers, provided Mom’s medical ID cards, and we talked about the calls I would receive over the next few days from various people who would be visiting, checking and helping Mom.
I’ve received those calls and will now need to keep a close watch to ensure things are going smoothly again.  Today the question of Mom’s coverage came up again with the new provider.  They said the insurance carrier was stating that Mom’s coverage ended on December 31, 2014.  I assured them that she was covered, checked online and called them back.  I asked what ID number they were using.
The ID number was the issue.  Although Mom’s ID number had not changed, they were still calling in to the automated system with the number given to them by the previous provider.  It was Daddy’s ID number, not Mom’s.  I know if I call the insurance provider, they have Mom’s coverage tied to Daddy because she is still covered under his plan until she passes - even though he died in 1988.  Her ID cards, that I have shared with the ALF, the first hospice and now the second, show her ID number and that is the number that has to be used for the insurance company’s automated system.  Issue resolved…