Who is depending on you? | Aging Matters | October

Recently a couple we know were both hospitalized at the same time. They are not elderly but both are eligible for senior discounts.

The situation served to remind my husband and me (also eligible for senior discounts) about the need to have all bases covered when this kind of unexpected crisis arises.

Our friends faced two sudden- problems. He needed intestinal surgery on an unexpected and immediate basis. Once he was admitted to the hospital, it was immediately apparent to his pastor that his wife — I’ll call her Sue — lacked the cognitive skills to stay by herself, and needed a psychological evaluation. During Sue’s recent cancer treatments, they had been aware that her cognitive abilities were declining badly, but had not yet located an appropriate response to Sue’s needs.

Complicating the picture of the couple’s sudden removal from the home were the various needs of three goats, two dogs, and two cats — being let out, fed, reassured, and kept safe. In a further complication, Sue’s daughter held power of attorney and our friends had never taken the legal step of being married.

Sue’s daughter and son do not live in Kitsap County, and couldn’t take time away from work to make decisions about where their mother might go for treatment. And they were not willing to take on the responsibility of the dogs.

The dogs appeared frantic because of their changed environment and didn’t seem good candidates for kenneling, even together. Fortunately, my husband was available to look in on the pets frequently enough to keep them safe and fed.

In this case, the affected loved ones were pets, but it could have been aging parents or a disabled adult child.

This seems a good opportunity to remind ourselves to prepare for the unexpected:

• Think about what would happen if you couldn’t return home at the end of the day;

• Have a plan in place for care for your pets and others in your care, in case you are called away to the hospital yourself; and

Be mindful of your legal powers of attorney, whether for financial matters or medical matters, in the event that you are permanently or temporarily incapacitated.

A durable power of attorney addresses who can take actions such as paying bills for you; a durable power of attorney for health care addresses who can make care decisions such as medication and treatment.

A Health Care Directive (“living will”) lets you document your wishes about medical care should you become unable to speak or write. Much as these are unpleasant subjects, I recall that when my husband was deploying regularly on submarines, we routinely met with an attorney every time he went to sea, to document our thinking about these matters.

An organization called Compassion & Choices of Washington has developed a single “Advance Directive” that can help you address all medical questions that could need answers (http://www.compassionwa.org/directives.html).

We are now considering: Who would care for those in our care if we were both hospitalized unexpectedly? Who would take over our financial and other matters if we were unable to handle them?

Columnist Bobbie Moore can be reached at elliottmoore@comcast.net.