At-home care for aging parents

Sarah: My mother is 62. She has severe rheumatoid arthritis and hasn’t worked in 25 years. My sister currently lives with my mother. Her house is a mess, dishes are piled up, trash is overflowing, her house reeks of cat urine and she spends most of her days sleeping. She doesn’t schedule or keep doctors’ appointments and my sister is afraid if she moves out, my mother will die. We’re afraid she really won’t take care of herself if no one is there. I need to know what kind of care she may qualify for. She doesn’t drive, or have a car for that matter. She has Medicaid — or maybe it’s Medicare now that she’s over 55? I’m desperate for help. Short of leaving my boyfriend, job and home in Oregon, I don’t know what to do. Please, I’ll take any advice you have.

Phil Moeller: I feel for you and all the other adult children struggling with how to help their aging parents. It’s hard enough to deal with these issues, as your sister is doing, and nearly impossible when you’re a continent away and have your own life to lead.

Your mother is too young to qualify for Medicare based on her age, but it’s always possible she has qualified because she applied for Social Security disability payments. When a person gets disability payments, they also are offered the opportunity to get Medicare.

Medicare by itself doesn’t help pay for the kind of care your mother requires. However, Medicaid would cover that kind of care, and it’s possible she may already be on Medicaid. If so, she may qualify for placement in an assisted-living facility. I won’t kid you and tell you that care in such places is always great, but from what you say, it most likely would be an improvement for your mom and would also take a lot of caregiving stress off of your sister.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program provides free Medicare counseling and should have someone in a Florida office who can help you understand the state’s Medicaid eligibility rules.