What happens to our dream of aging in place when our health begins to fail? What if one of a couple has a debilitating illness? Are there alternatives to nursing home care here in our beautiful remote mountain valleys?

Naturally, if you have long-term-care insurance, this is the time to access it. These policies vary greatly in their usefulness and application. If you encounter problems, call the California Insurance Dept. (1-800-927-4357), or consult an elder-care lawyer.

Meanwhile, here are some immediate suggestions: contact the Senior Lunch and Transportation programs in your area. (283-3546 in Plumas County, 257-6670 in Lassen County) The lunch program is a real life-saver for many frail elders. No shopping, cooking or washing up! Plus, a well-balanced meal in the company of your peers can make a difference for both the caregiver and the ailing spouse. No longer driving? Transportation to the lunch program is available. Home-delivered meals are the ticket for both spouses when one is house-bound. Persons aged 60 and over are eligible for meals and transportation. There are suggested donations for these services: $2.50 for lunch, $1.50 for round-trip to the Nutrition Site.

Plumas, Lassen and Modoc counties are currently investigating means of providing transportation for medical appointments. At this time, there is very limited transportation to medical appointments (Call 283-3546 in Plumas County, 257-2113 in Lassen County).

The Veteran’s Offices offer some transportation for medical appointments (283-6275 in Plumas county, 251-8912 in Lassen county). While in touch with the VA, you may look into another program they administer—“Aid and Attendance.” This is a program to provide war-time veterans and surviving spouses with help toward expenses.

Next, I want to emphasize how important it is to work with your physician to access services that exist but that he or she may not suggest. For instance, you may ask if physical therapy (invaluable in restoring and/or maintaining mobility) is appropriate. Ask also about “Home Care,” a Medicare covered service which can only be accessed on order by your physician. Under Home Care, a specialist will come to the home and evaluate what is needed. Do you need a walker and a chair for the bath/shower? Will a commode that sits over the toilet provide you with the hand-holds you need? Does the bed need to be raised so it is easier to get in and out? Some of this is paid for by Medicare and some is not.

Under home care, there are a limited number of visits by a nurse to monitor your “vitals”, take blood for lab testing, and help with bathing. This can be essential while you explore other resources.

Respite care can make the difference between being overwhelmed with stress and fatigue or your ability to function! Respite care is designed to give the care-giving spouse a regular break so he/she can take a nap, go shopping, or go for a walk. (In Plumas County call 898-6637, in Lassen call 229-0878)

Plumas Rural Services (283-3611) has two programs which can be helpful: Respite Care and Community Connections. The respite program has a list of providers and operates on a sliding scale based on your ability to pay. Community Connections is a network of volunteers who do a variety of household tasks in exchange for “credit” later, when they may need it

IHSS (In-Home Supportive Services) is a federal, state program that provides non-medical services (house-keeping) for low-income seniors. (283-6350 in Plumas County, 251-8128 in Lassen County). Unfortunately, because of California’s budget woes, eligibility for IHSS is projected to be severely cut this year.

Finding reliable housekeeping workers is not easy, but they are out there. Run an ad in the local paper and don’t overlook the possibility that your neighbors, your church or people in your social club may know of someone who is looking for work and whom they can recommend.

Most of us are proud of our independence and are reluctant to ask for help. We may even feel that in some way we are at fault—that we should be able to cope. Let me assure you; you are not alone. The first step is to ask! There are many caring people around; people who — like you — want to stay in this beautiful, peaceful area. Just ask! You will be surprised!

Nancy Lund is the Chair of the PlumasCounty Commission on Aging. She is a former CaliforniaState Senior Senator and served on the AARPState Legislative Committee. [email protected]