There's help at hand when elderly relative's health fails

By Jim Fitzgerald

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 24 2012 6:40 p.m. MST

Barbara Newman Mannix, founder of A Dignified Life, outside her White Plains, N.Y., office.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Marnie Schwartz was in California, a lawyer raising two toddlers. She was in no position to move across the country to care for her mother, who was living alone in New York and whose health was beginning to decline.

Schwartz's dilemma was similar to that faced by more and more Americans as the population spreads out, people live longer and giving up a job is out of the question.

"I needed eyes and ears closer to my mother," said Schwartz, an only child living in Malibu. "I needed someone to handle the medical, the insurance, the financial, stay on top of the daily caregiving, so the emotional strain wouldn't be overwhelming."

Those needs have fostered a niche that a variety of enterprises have been filling in recent years. Companies and individuals calling themselves advocates, care managers and advisers are willing to stand in for the family and deal with the maze of responsibilities that comes with the care of an elderly loved one.

With the aging of the baby boom generation, the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, calls for such businesses are expected to increase over the next 20 years.

Their service doesn't come cheap and it's generally not covered by insurance. But some customers have found it's worth the peace of mind.

Schwartz found her "eyes and ears" when a childhood friend told her about A Dignified Life, a small company in White Plains, N.Y., that specializes in elder care.

"I don't know what I would have done without them," Schwartz said. "They knew where to go with all these questions I had that would have taken me 500 phone calls. They deciphered what the doctors were saying. They got a ramp built at the house. They dealt with the plumber. They remembered everything, and they did it in a really human, caring way.

"In about a year and a half, as my mother's situation got worse, they became part of our daily life," Schwartz said. And in October, as her mother's health failed, "they told me it was time to get on a plane." She was at her mother's deathbed, she said, because A Dignified Life knew when to call.

Barbara Newman Mannix, who runs the company, said "experience and empathy" are required to do the job well. She vets, hires and monitors in-home caregivers, attorneys, nursing homes and more, guides a family through the financial tangles and makes sure an elderly person's wishes are respected. She can help arrange the sale of a house and pre-plan a funeral.

For an initial, $625 four-hour consultation, her company will evaluate a family's needs and come up with an "action plan." The family can then hire the company to implement the plan on an hourly or retainer basis.

Mannix started the company after navigating the maze during her husband's fatal illness.

"You're suddenly in crisis and the normal reaction is, 'What do I do, where do I go, who do I call first?'" she said. "People are lost. But we tell them there is a way to cope, there is crisis management, there are people that will help you who do what they do all day every day."

She said many people just don't have the personality for dealing with doctors and caregivers and insurance companies.

"It's time, it's energy, it's stress, it's consternation among members of the family," she said. "There's emotional baggage, and if you have children yourself you're being pulled in both directions."

Judy Rappaport, who runs Preferred Lifestyle Services in Jupiter, Fla., said most elderly people resist moving to a son or daughter's home.

"Everybody wants to stay home," Rappaport said. "Now we do what we can to make it possible for people to stay in their homes."

Most of her company's staffers are nurses.

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