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Sarah S. learned the hard way that caregivers must plan ahead.

It happened when her 80-year-old mom, Frances, broke her hip and needed rehabilitation.

Although Frances lived on her own and was still mentally stable, she had limited finances, and Medicaid only allowed for recovery in one local nursing home. There, she developed bedsores and pneumonia, and she received little of the rehabilitative treatment she needed.

Then a few weeks later, Frances awoke, delirious with fever and undiagnosed pneumonia. She was taken to the hospital, where she slipped into a coma. Sarah learned of it when she stopped by the nursing home to visit on her lunch break.

Too late to talk

Sarah rushed to her mother, who was breathing with the help of a respirator by that point. Although they had never talked about what her mom would want in this type of scenario, Sarah knew this wasn’t it. When a nurse came in to check on Frances’ vitals, Sarah asked for an update.

“I’m sorry, honey,” the nurse said. “I don’t see that you’re authorized to receive information about the patient. I can’t tell you anything.”

A week later, Sarah’s mother died, alone, hooked up to tubes and IVs. Sarah was left with disbelief and an overwhelming sense of having failed her mom. And as she worked through her mother’s bills in the days that followed, she realized there was no will and so much credit card debt that it would consume Frances’ home and meager savings.

The final shock

According to a caregiver survey by Wayforth, a moving and downsizing assistance service for seniors, 80 percent of caregivers who participated said they had experienced the death of a loved one. Of those individuals, 70 percent said they were unprepared for all the work that followed.

Sarah faced the worst outcome a caregiver could imagine: she wanted to be there for Frances, but her lack of knowledge and legal authority barred her from being able to help or advocate for her mother.

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