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Senior Matters: Preparing for the worst makes for the best
Being prepared is not just for catastrophic events. The smaller ones can be just as devastating
mary kenyon
Mary Kenyon

Just one year ago, we were preparing for a stellar summer in the Mid-Valley. Made it through another Food & Wine and the annual spring clean-up and plans were underway for a festive 4th. 

It was a typical pre-holiday Tuesday evening when we smelled a little smoke in the air. Gathered in the neighborhood cul-de-sac, we heard sirens and then it started snowing. Not snow but ash, ever so lightly but visible as it landed on my black lab. The flakes got bigger. More neighbors joined us and reported that the reverse 911 had been activated and we were being told to “prepare” to evacuate. 

Disbelief set in quickly. Here? Now? When? What does that even mean? Are you going to? What are you going to do? Shall we? OK, Let’s pack up “some things” and head over to Capitol Creek Brewery for apps (because they allow dogs on the patio). We were convinced they would call off the evacuation that evening. It all seems so silly now. Hindsight. Wish I had known then what I was soon to find out.

Needless to say, I was woefully ill prepared. My passport and makeup did very little for me over the next several days. The first night, Sammy (my lab) and I slept in my SUV among 20 other vehicles near the Willits rugby field as the evacuation center at the Basalt High School did not accept pets. (What are you talking about; she IS a family member!) We had the nice bathroom there and a community of dog owners but when one barked, they all barked. No sleep, but who could sleep anyway? 

As it grew lighter, the conversation shifted to what time Two Rivers Café opened. Off we went to join a throng of other displaced evacuees. We shared stories of what we had managed to gather with one local judge admitting that he grabbed nine pairs of underwear but only one shirt. Now I didn’t feel so badly about my ill-conceived packing. 

Advance preparation could have properly equipped us for this five-day adventure. (Do you have a to-go bag ready?) At the daily evacuee meetings we compared stories of stupidity (sneaking back into the neighborhood and begging the state troopers for just 5 minutes for more clothes) and praying to be the next location to be determined “safe” to return home. I learned a lot that week with the most important lesson being one of preparation.

Being prepared is not just for catastrophic events. The smaller ones can be just as devastating. Have you taken a fall lately? Join the group. Nearly one-third of folks over 65 take a fall each year, and falls, for all ages in Colorado, are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalization and the third leading cause of injury-related death. Death from falling? Better sign up for that fall-prevention class now.  

If you were suddenly hospitalized with a fixable fall injury, whom would you contact? Where do you keep that list? If you were unconscious, how would your emergency responders know whom to contact? Like me, you may be airlifted to St. Mary’s in Grand Junction. They never tell you how to get back (or what to wear). 

Homecare is next. Skilled or unskilled, the options are not abundant in the Roaring Fork Valley, but it is good to know the options and have their numbers handy. Rides to rehab (the physical kind), grocery shopping and follow-up medical appointments, home delivered meals and friendly visits are all available. Good to know. Many are volunteer-based and quite helpful. Call your local county senior program (another number you should have on speed-dial) for assistance in scheduling those.

Many seniors quickly and proudly respond that they have children in the valley they would call. Think again. Your temporary or long-term disability has no priority in their busy lives. What is best for you may not “fit” into their plans. Putting you in a facility may suddenly become their (not your) best option. They will be there at first, and for the “important” meetings, but beyond that, you may be on your own. After all, they have work, weekend visits in Vail or vacation plans. 

I have watched in amazement as this scene plays out locally. After allowing friend-caregivers to do the heavy lifting while one family member travels all winter abroad, the same family member swoops into town, kicks out the in-home caregivers (they had to move into a hotel), hires contractors and starts remodeling the elder’s home to turn it into an AirBNB. Of course, no one is to tell the elder as it might upset him. You think? Who prioritizes purchasing mattresses for guest rooms while their father is mending in the rehabilitation center?  

The best scenario, for all, is to have a third-party advocate. That could be a good friend (who is willing to be abused by the family), attorney or someone in the adult and family services department (not ideal but very kind and helpful). Be prepared for it all. Make your feelings known and with as much specificity as possible.  

The general notion of not wanting to be put in a nursing home needs more explanation, and research, on your part. Have you toured what is affordable for you and available? I have. My friend is at Heritage Park now. The staff is wonderful and attentive. The “vibe” is friendly, homey and although it is not the same as being at home, as an option while you recuperate, it comes close. 

I have also toured Renew Roaring Fork (formerly Peregrine) and Castle Peak over in Eagle. At the Caregivers Conference last week, I learned about other private options such as Harmony House, a six-bed home in Glenwood Springs. Further away, I checked out several facilities in Scottsdale, some of which were awful and some that I would move into tomorrow. Doing your research now, while you can be objective and less frantic, will benefit you immensely in the future. Ignoring it won’t make it not happen, it will leave you in the hands of people who “can’t deal with this now.”

Being sick is stressful enough. Having a list of options and desires will make it easier to plan for your recuperation without being a burden (or opportunity) for your children. Also, know your rights. Once you become capacitated, revoke any powers of attorney. Access to your accounts and assets may be too tempting, especially if you are not informed. Being prepared is not only the Scouts’ mantra, it is a necessity for maintaining a quality of life – yours!

Mary Kenyon has worked on the Pitkin County Aging Well Plan initiatives for the past five years. She is passionate about bringing attention to issues of the older population in our Valley. Email her your preparation challenges at mary@impactmarketingaspen.com