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The Author Speaks

'A Bittersweet Season'

Interview with Jane Gross, the author of a new book on being a caregiver

Q. What does that mean?

A. You're almost guaranteed, as my brother and I did, to screw it up in certain ways if you're thinking about it hard for the first time in the middle of a crisis. Most of the mistakes we made were in the first two years after we brought my mother back from Florida because we were scared and rushing. Once we passed the panic stage, my brother and I were good problem solvers and information gatherers.

Q. You two are seasoned journalists, and yet it was a steep learning curve for you. Imagine what it's like for the rest of us! Also, neither you nor your brother has children and you were able to devote more time than most to your mother. Any advice?

A. If you don't have a great geriatrician, and very few of us will because of the shortage of them, consider a geriatric care manager. I've heard a million people say they can't afford and don't need one, but if my brother and I had gone to one early on, we would have saved money by not making mistakes.

Q. How do you find a good one?

A. The more established professions like the geriatric care manager and elder care lawyer have national associations and standards and are a reliable place to start. I would also take recommendations from friends and colleagues.

Q. Anything else?

A. I didn't understand beforehand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid or the importance of knowing about assisted living, continuing care retirement communities and nursing homes — how much they cost, what part is covered by some kind of entitlement or long-term care insurance, and how much money your parent has. There's no such thing as too many questions!

For instance, I thought I could hire a live-in aide for my mother in assisted living in New York, and she had a long-term care policy that would have paid for that. I was never told she couldn't and never knew to ask that question, so therefore I had no idea she couldn't until she needed one.

Q. You talk about a lot of things you did wrong, but there's so much you seem to have done right! When your mother wanted to take a creative writing class at her nursing home and she was seriously impaired, what did you do?

A. My mother was very antisocial, but desperately wanted to take this class; it was the only activity she was the least bit interested in. But by the time this class rolled around, she had started to lose her speech and couldn't hold a pencil. Logic says you can't take a writing class with this level of disability.

Next: Creative problem solving for caregivers. >>

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