Health care, legal and financial concerns were among the topics discussed Tuesday night at an expert panel discussion on senior care presented by the Conway Regional Women’s Council.

Hospitalist Dr. Greg Kendrick discussed the importance of having conversations early on whenever possible with aging parents in order to make decisions easier when critical moments arise.

A living will can give guidance, and it is a good starting point for discussions on whether a family member wants to have CPR administered, be on a ventilator or be fed through a tube if their health should deteriorate to that point. However, Kendrick noted, a living will is not legally binding, and the family has the final say.

He also discussed the different types of long-term care. Nursing home long-term care is not Medicare funded, although nursing home rehab is, he said. Assisted living is an option that is under-utilized, he said, because most seniors are unwilling to try it until they need more assistance than is provided there. Assisted living facilities provide help with medications, meals, and most importantly, they provide a community, he said.

Hospice provides end-of-life care and is Medicare funded. Kendrick said Hospice allows patients to maintain comfort without being in and out of the hospital for the last six months of their lives.

"A lot of times we spend time and resources trying to keep our conscience clear when really what we ought to do is say, ‘We’re going to make sure you’re not hurting. We’re not going to do this in and out of the hospital.’ It’s a very tough decision, especially at the last minute."

Attorney Frank Dudeck shared advice on how seniors can protect their life savings from the effects of long-term care.

He showed how, even if a person has not planned ahead when entering a nursing home, they can still significantly reduce the penalties they will pay when applying for Medicaid.

He also discussed how to create a will that avoids probate and how to avoid a guardianship.

"The sooner you plan, the more you protect," he said.

Investment officer Daniel Robinson discussed living on a fixed income, Social Security and investments. For seniors living on a fixed income, he recommended cutting back on unnecessary expenses and investing money where it can grow.

Tracey Jones, a volunteer program manager with the Senior Health Insurance Information Program, discussed the history of Medicare and the different plans available. She said seniors receiving a Social Security check are eligible for Medicare.

She also recommended that seniors call a representative as soon as they get their card so they can get their plans in place and not have an interruption in health care service.

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