Healthy aging involves more than hospital care

By Mike Heinrich / Guest Column

The topic of caregiving and helping loved ones who are getting older is everywhere. In Iowa that makes sense with one of the fastest aging populations in the United States.

Concerns associated with aging and caregiving are especially apparent to health care providers at all levels, from the primary care office to urgent care, hospital, home care, long term care and more.

A year ago Mercy Iowa City and the Mercy Hospital Foundation co-hosted a seminar called “Planning for the Later Years: Your Parents and Your Own.” Some of the topics covered included were options for care at home, options for care outside of the home, how to talk productively to your parents if they are beginning to need assistance but don’t think they do, how to evaluate all of the options so you can make a good decision and what legal and financial documents and arrangements should be in place.

Some participants attended because they were looking for help right away. Others came because they knew they would need help sometime soon to assist loved ones who lived nearby or across the country. Or they were looking for more information and resources as they made plans for their own future, knowing they would eventually need to make some adjustments to their lifestyle or living arrangements as they aged.

Considering what might happen in the future, doing the research and making future plans is always best when it’s done long before those plans are needed. When we or our loved ones are in good health is the best time to get plans in place and to complete documents such as a durable power of attorney for financial matters and/or health care. Too often decisions are made in a crisis situation when emotions rule instead of thoughtful resolutions based on research.

Those of us living in Eastern Iowa, including Johnson, Linn and Black Hawk counties, have an abundance of resources and options as do other urban centers in the state. Resources such as the Johnson County Livable Community web site provide comprehensive lists of services available locally. Other resources include where you can search comparisons of hospitals, nursing homes or home health care facilities to see rankings of providers close to home, based on more than 60 quality measures.

If you need assistance with determining the best Medicare plan as health changes, SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) volunteers are available in many communities. Mercy Iowa City is one of two SHIIP locations in Johnson County.

Deciding whether staying at home independently is an option, or if it’s time for home health care or perhaps adult day health care, or moving to an independent living unit in a retirement community, or assisted living or a nursing home, is something a patient’s primary care provider can help with as health transitions occur. Your provider can make recommendations or schedule cognitive, physical or mental health assessments to better evaluate which option would provide the most fulfilling, least intrusive and safest situation.

Comparative quality data can tell you a lot, but it is only a starting point. Having meaningful conversations about how you wish to age, where you would prefer to live if you can’t stay at home, who should help you with financial, legal and health care decisions or make those for you if you cannot, visiting the housing options, and then comparing those answers with the data, will help you make a plan.

I know from the experiences of my family and those of close friends, the plan you make yourself is usually the most successful one.

Mike Heinrich is interim president and CEO and executive vice president and CFO of Mercy Iowa City.