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The NSPA Blog

Near Disastrous Consequences of Failure to Plan

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Posted on November 11th, 2012 by Teri Dreher, under Patient Advocacy, Senior Orphans

No one likes to think about the “what-if’s” of growing old and gradually becoming unable to care for our own needs…or what would happen if we suddenly found ourselves without a family living close by or caregivers who have our best interests at heart. But all too often, with our increasingly fragmented American nuclear families, the elderly often find themselves in a vulnerable position. All too often, vulnerability may intersect with exploitation.

Take the case of an elderly couple I met a few years ago. The gentleman, Mr O’Connor was 85 and had symptoms of dementia and chronically neglected cardiac disease. His sister had lived with him as his caretaker for many years and was 83 years old when we met. Both had enjoyed successful careers in their youth(investment banker and actress) and were quite wealthy, though they lived alone and were fairly isolated from neighbors. They had all their groceries delivered and attracted little attention from the outside world. They sadly had no living relatives left in the world. I came into their lives as a visiting nurse, sent by their doctor to check in and monitor Mr O’Connor’s medicines for a few weeks after he came home after a nasty fall necessitated a brief hospitalization. Two things broke my heart when I saw the home situation. First, there was evidence of impaired thinking and possibly mental illness in the apartment: years of hoarded garbage, poor sanitation and paranoia. Both Mr O’Connor and his sister lacked the ability to remember medical instructions, yet they were able to tell me about a “very nice neighbor” who had just asked them to sign some legal papers so he could take care of their “affairs”. Fortunately, I was able to intervene and have a social worker help with assigning a court appointed guardian to help the couple manage their day to day living and financial requirements until they were eventually moved to a very well respected long term care facility that was able to provide the care and support they needed. This scenario happens all too often all around us, without the “happy ending” that this story had. It made me think about my own plan…and my family’s. What will we do when that time comes?

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

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