Seniors and their families need guidance, instruction and emotional and legal support when receiving care in a hospital on an emergency basis, assisted living center, rehabilitation facility or nursing home, assuming guardianship of an incapacitated loved one, entering into estate planning or probate, or navigating Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or VA benefits, an elder law attorney attending a conference on aging told Pharm Psych.
Attending the Aging in America conference in Chicago by the American Society of Aging, Kate Curler, an elder law attorney with her own private practice in the city for nearly four years and the only child of her elderly parents, both seriously ill, said her own experience with caregiving helps her empathize with ailing seniors and their relatives, share her story with individuals in the long-term care and home health care industry and informs her legal work with families.
“I did some advanced [planning to ensure the best care for my parents,” Curler said. “I made sure that the best] nurses and [the best] rehabilitation facilities [were coordinating and managing their care.]”
For 60 years, her mother battled juvenile diabetes, also known as Type I diabetes and the more severe of the two forms, as opposed to adult diabetes also called Type II. She died at age 64. Curler is 43.
“[My mother’s health care] depended now [on] disease management,” she said. “[We had to] modify [the type and dosage of] shots [of insulin she received.]”
Her mother was ill for 10 years. Her mother visited Curler in Chicago while she was practicing law and later returned to Michigan where she and her husband, Curler’s father, lived. Because of her visits and work in Michigan, Curler developed legal clients in Bay City, Mich.
Within six weeks of her stay in Chicago, Curler’s mother contracted e-coli poisoning and went to the hospital. Her illness took an emotional toll on both Curler and her father.
“[Providing care for her in Chicago was] stressful,” she said. “ And it was hard on him.”
In 2011, her mother was diagnosed with kidney problems and underwent dialysis. Curler said her mother spent three weeks in intense rehabilitation, which she badly needed.
She explained that, with respect to daily tasks of living, for example, it takes 20 to 30 minutes to place a patient in a chair or bed in a long-term care facility. Her mother was not rehabilitated enough to go home in Michigan.
“My mom [was] confused,” Curler said. “[She] was given [the] wrong medication. [The] doctor did not [apologize]. [I was] a mess emotionally.”
Her father, still alive, too, was stricken with diabetes and suffered an aneurysm of the aorta. Curler said he endured eye problems and was “falling apart” over his own health problems as well as that of her mother.
“You have one chance of survival,” she said. “He had low-vision and was legally blind. It was too much. It was too stressful.”
As a result of her mother’s health struggles, Curler devoted much of her legal work and volunteer work to helping families afflicted with Type I diabetes, especially as it pertains to aging. Some of her work involved talking to professionals in senior care, most notably through the American Society on Aging’s Roundtable.
“I talked to people in aging about what to do [in terms of how to plan and execute plans of care for aging relatives and families],” she said. “[The] unique [aspect of what I did [was to] share personal stories.”
Curler began her career after earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University. When she graduated, she served as a volunteer paralegal in prisons through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Baltimore before moving to California. There, she received her law degree from Santa Clara University’s school of law in 2002.
This article was originally published March 10, 2014 on the website of PharmPsych.com, one of seven websites that comprise The Pharm Psych Network, a medical communications and education company.