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Preparing to age

This is the first story in a three-part series examining the business of aging. The next story runs in the Gazette business section on Tuesday and looks at what it means to retire and programs available to train seniors who re-enter the work force.

Rowena Sizemore calls herself a professional daughter or daughter-in-law.

She can arrange for someone to manage your finances and clean your house. If you want to continue eating food cooked in a Crock-Pot but are unable to prepare it yourself, she can even find someone to make it for you.

“That’s exactly what I do best, solve people’s problems,” she said.

Sizemore is a professional geriatric care manager and helps older adults and their families determine what they need as they age.

People call her Parkersburg office, Geriatric Care Management, and ask for help. Often, an adult child says, “I don’t know what to do with my mom, she shouldn’t be living by herself or shouldn’t drive,” Sizemore said.

Sometimes people want help placing their parent in a long-term care facility.

“A family has a need, they call and I can problem-solve,” she said.

West Virginia is among five states that have the highest proportion of older Americans in the country — approximately 15 percent or more, according to The American Geriatrics Society.

West Virginians, 60 and older, made up 20 percent of the state’s total population in 2000, according to the U.S. Census. The number of people in this age group increased by a little more than 2,000 between 1990 and 2000.

Sizemore, 42, has been a social worker for almost 20 years and started her business in June. As the number of older West Virginians increases, Sizemore realized, so does the need for the type of services she provides.

“West Virginia has one of the highest homeownership rates. I think that tells me people want to stay at home,” Sizemore said. “They will have to hire someone to do that if they don’t have someone who is willing or able. I have the expertise. I can do that the most efficiently for them.”

Bob Jones and his three siblings were faced with their mother’s declining health in 2003. Jones’ mother, Eleanor, lived in Bridgeport and became confused easily and would fall. She was unable to prepare her meals and do other personal care tasks.

“She needed more help than we were able to provide,” said Jones who lives in Morgantown and has two brothers in New Jersey and a sister in Bridgeport.

Eleanor had told her children previously that she never wanted to enter a nursing home. So when her family recognized her growing needs, they started identifying local service providers to help.

“Luckily, I’m a social worker and knew some agencies to call,” said Jones, who is a program specialist with WVU’s Center on Aging’s Mountain State Geriatric Education Center.

There are several services available to older adults and their families to help determine needs and get help. The West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services has a list of programs and services on its Web site. There are four area agencies on aging statewide, and each county has at least one senior center that provides services like delivered meals, transportation, and in-home care.

The National Council on the Aging also offers www.Benefits

CheckUp.org, a Web site that provides information about services available to seniors in each state like help with health-care and prescription drug costs, property tax relief, daily hot meals and places to volunteer. People visit the Web site, fill out a questionnaire and print out a personal report. The report lists each program’s name and a brief description, plus the three closest offices and what to take to apply.

Over her years in social work, Sizemore has constructed a database of several hundred services available for seniors in 10 West Virginia and Ohio counties. She also can go online and find available services in any county. With a few mouse clicks, she can help an adult son in California find out what services are available for his parent in Kanawha County.

After the initial call, Sizemore schedules an appointment to do a senior assessment in the client’s home. In two hours, she asks about things such as the senior’s daily living, current care, psychological condition and unmet needs.

After the assessment, the senior can hire Sizemore to craft a care plan and then implement and oversee it.

“What I do could keep someone from going into a nursing home,” she said. “If that care plan kept someone out of a nursing home for private pay, [the senior would] save lots of money.”

Her basic package costs $440 and includes a senior assessment and report, care-plan development and implementation.

The average cost of a nursing home in West Virginia is $140 a day, or $4,200 a month, said Dee Webb, with the West Virginia Healthcare Association, a group that represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state. The average base cost of an assisted-living facility in West Virginia is $2,276 a month, according to the 2004 MetLife Market Survey of Assisted Living Costs.

Many times, older adults just need help with their meals, medications and transportation and could stay in their home if they had that help, Sizemore said. Sometimes, children don’t realize the parent needs a few specialized services instead of the total care offered at a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

When Jones had to determine how to meet his mother’s mounting health needs, he called some agencies to meet with his siblings and mother. The family interviewed service providers and asked for references. They had to hire and fire a few agencies before they found the perfect fit.

Eleanor needed in-home care services 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the last six months of her life. At about $10 an hour, her in-home care cost about $7,200 a month.

“My mother was very fortunate that she and my father worked hard and sacrificed so they could have the financial resources available to do this,” Jones said.

Whether an older adult and their family choose to hire Sizemore or try to navigate the senior services that are available, it’s important to discuss what kind of care you want as you grow older. People generally anticipate physical decline, but not cognitive decline, Sizemore said.

“With life planning, you look at what kind of care you’ll get while you’re living,” she said. “It can take a huge burden off of kids because they know what mom or dad wants.”

To contact Rowena Sizemore, call (800) 760-6145.

To contact the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, call 558-3317 or visit www.state.

wv.us/seniorservices.

To contact staff writer Jennifer Ginsberg, use e-mail or call 348-5195.


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