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How to Navigate Health Programs

Read a transcript of an online chat with Judy Peres, a long-term and palliative care expert

Comment From Liz: When a parent is in a nursing home, should you visit every day or encourage them to get more involved with activities offered? What is a healthy visitation amount of time?

Judy Peres: Hi, Liz, there is no one "right" answer to your question. Each family is different and each of us has our own intimacy needs. Once a family member has moved to a nursing home, it is important to visit as often as time allows. Residents of nursing facilities need to be reassured on a regular basis that they are still an important member of the family. When you visit, be supportive and affectionate.

Ask permission to visit and then plan your visits in advance. First, it is important to enable your parent to retain as much control in his or her life as possible. By asking their permission to visit, you are enabling your loved one to have control over at least one aspect of their schedule.

Listen attentively to your parent. Treating older adults like children, even if they are frail or cognitively impaired, only contributes to low self-esteem and increased dependence.

Become acquainted with nursing home staff. Your active involvement and consistent visits illustrate your interest in your loved one as well as an appreciation of the care they provide. Do not hesitate to thank the staff or compliment something they have done well.

If you are unable to visit your loved one in person, because of distance or your own health limitations, be sure to keep in touch by telephone or by sending notes and cards. Receiving pictures of you, your garden or your pet could brighten your family member's day and provide something to enjoy for days afterward.

Comment From schase: Thank you for this. My question, I guess, is how do you really know when it's time to put Mom in a home and you're not giving enough. I have had Mom at home for 5 years now and she is steadily getting worse, lately very quickly, but I know when she goes into a home it will be worse. The guilt takes over and I just don't know. I do know I'm heading for burnout with little support and don't feel like I'm giving her the care she needs. I'm also taking care of a 20-month-old. Support groups? Who has the time?

Judy Peres: It is certainly difficult caring for a parent and a young child. You should seek support for yourself as a caregiver. Call 800-677-1116 or log on to to find out about services for caregivers in your area. You can also learn about services to help your parent. Thank you for the care you give.

Comment From Kathy G: Does a person have to be 65 to qualify for Medicare?

Comment From dibo: Is Medicare for old people and Medicaid all ages?

Judy Peres: I'm going to answer two questions at once. Generally, Medicare is available to people who are 65 or older, people younger than 65 with certain disabilities and people with end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure). The Medicaid program covers people with low income, is jointly funded through federal and state funds and is state administered, so different rules apply in each state.

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