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Natick - Local Town Pages

Nursing Home Negligence or a Vibrant Life Plan Community?

By Heather J. Culkeen Executive Director: Project Perseverance 
Doctors, nurses, patients, and their family members have all types of unpleasant conversations, according to Amy Sarah Marshall of the University of Virginia Medical Center magazine, Healthy Balance. For example: How to prepare for aging and caring for an aging partner or parent is one of those. For Lee Willis and her husband Hal, the conversation started this way: their beloved doctor of 15 years asked Lee, point-blank: “Are you prepared for the possibility that Hal may outlive you?”
At 94, Hal is ten years older than Lee. A plane accident broke multiple bones in his legs, and arthritis had settled in. Walking is hard for him. He does his own laundry and washes the dishes, but he doesn’t drive and often uses a wheelchair.
Lee, on the other hand, just bought herself a new kayak. A nine-year cancer survivor, she relieves pain with exercise, not medicine. She swims three times a week. When not caring for Hal, she’s active, traveling, and socializing.
Still, the doctor had a point: Be prepared.
Most people avoid the subject of getting old. Death is as natural as birth, but too many people simply don’t want to think about it until they are too ill to participate in decision making, leaving family members and their physicians to make decisions that may or may not be what they would have wanted at the end of life. We need to prepare better.
Lee’s major purpose in preparing for Hal’s aging and her own was to find a location where this could happen. Lee didn’t simply conduct a Google search. She went to a lot of nursing homes. She compiled a list of in-home care services and went to each one.
But Lee wasn’t satisfied, mainly because of shifting staff. “You can never guarantee the same people. The bottom-line dictates staffing. This turnover and the resulting lack in continuity of care, is a problem.”
So, she looked at the option of aging in place. She volunteered at programs of all-inclusive care for the Elderly, which offers 24/7 coverage for anyone qualified for a nursing home. It seemed like “this would probably be what we choose to do,” she said.
But then Lee discovered The Green House Project, a new model for long-term care for elders. In 2001, a doctor named Bill Thomas was appalled at the state of elder care. He saw it was a hospital, not a home with people just sitting in wheelchairs. So, he introduced a lot of changes, bringing in birds, dogs, cats, and plants. But it still wasn’t enough. So, he “super-trained” staff to behave like family members, not healthcare providers. He built a new structure, with one central room, the residents living in rooms off in spokes. It became a communal place, with a common kitchen where people cook family recipes and behave like relatives.
Lee found one in her state. “If we both have to go somewhere, this will be it!”
The best advice Lee’s received from her doctor: Exercise. He told her that the biggest factor that differentiates healthy from unhealthy aging is exercise—folks who remain sedentary clearly become frailer more rapidly than those who either remain or become active in their later years. Exercising on a regular basis makes a huge difference in how one ages.
Lee’s primary lessons for younger people: Be proactive. “It’s really hard when you’re 50 to think about being 80, but you should.” She advises younger people to:
• Take your health seriously—eat well and exercise.
• Prepare with a reputable Estate Planning Attorney who cares about your health as well as your assets.
• Be an advocate for yourself. 
• Get political and advocate for end-of-life care.
Heather J. Culkeen is Executive Director of Project Perseverance. The public charity is dedicated to supporting rescue efforts, as well as assisting local, early-stage nonprofit organizations. We focus on protecting Families for Generations. We have protected families, children, boomers, seniors, and the elderly for generations. We welcome opportunities for growth and development.
In our experience most people prefer aging on their own as they take steps to improve and protect health, home, spouse, family, and life savings enabling them to stay in control. Take control of your life! You will be glad you did. 
To donate to Project Perseverance to help support our mission to give back, please email us at [email protected] with subject line: PP888.The QR Code and link will be
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