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Safe landing: A Softer Place gives seniors end-of-life options
Few things can bring more stress than caring for someone at the end of their life. Carrollton resident Barbara Vincent knows this firsthand, and doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else.
Vincent was in charge of the care of a relative in south Texas, who was in the final stages of a degenerative brain disease. She attempted to move her to Dallas to continue her care closer to home, but was unsuccessful.
“I went through the stress of trying to find a place for her in Dallas, and I came up really short,” Vincent said. “I pride myself on being able to handle situations and get the help I need, and I couldn’t.”
Vincent said that what made the experience most frustrating is she was unable to find reliable information on senior care providers when she needed it most. It was something she thought she could improve for others.
“It’s always been my philosophy that you don’t complain unless you’ve got a better idea,” Vincent said. “So I thought it be wonderful if senior care could be all in one place, where you could go straight to it.”
So Vincent enlisted the help of her son, Phillip Handlin, to help her create A Softer Place, an online resource dedicated to providing information and recommendations for all aspects of senior care. The name for the site came from a conversation Vincent’s daughter overheard on an episode of “Dr. Phil.”
“They were talking about ‘Your home should be a softer place to fall,’” Vincent said. “I thought at the time that was really nice, but didn’t think any more about it. Then, when a relative of ours in South Texas was falling and getting injured, I thought that when you get older and infirm, you need a softer place.”
Handlin said that the biggest reason a site like A Softer Place is needed is that the information on senior care facilities is very unevenly distributed, and serve different interests.
“It’s very fractured,” Handlin said. “On one side, you have commercial interests, and then on the other side you have government regulation, and in this situation they don’t meet. That’s where A Softer Place lies.”
Vincent said that because people often have little time to make decisions about elderly love ones, they choose a care facility or nursing home that is nearby, without researching how the facility rates among its competitors. She said that is often a mistake.
“Just because you drive by a senior care facility doesn’t mean that there’s a whole history behind that place,” Vincent said. “Just because a place is close to your home, that doesn’t mean it’s a place you want to take your mom, because it’s often not.”
Handlin said A Softer Place uses government ratings to determine whether a facility will be recommended on the site. He said the government rates facilities on a scale from one to 100.
“The average score is quite low, shockingly low, actually,” Handlin said. “It was a real eye-opener.”
By providing the government ratings for users to see, Handlin hopes it will spur senior care facilities to improve their services.
“What we hope will happen is that, because of this website, is that people will start to ask facilities, ‘I went to asofterplace.com and you’re not on there. How come?’ and then the facility will ask us why, and we will show them their score,” Handlin said. “Then facilities will realize that people are looking at their scores now.”
In addition to ratings for nursing homes, A Softer Place provides a wide variety of information about all aspects of end of life decisions, including insurance, legal assistance, home maintenance and pet care.
“We try to think of every angle and every need and provide that information,” Handlin said.
Vincent said many of the topics on A Softer Place have come from experiences she or others she has known had to deal with. In the “Viewpoints” section of the site, Vincent has written about these experiences, with titles such as “Are Your Affairs in Order?” “Your Home: asset or liability” and “Don’t Let This Happen to You.”
“That’s what those ‘Viewpoints’ articles are there for: to encourage people to take responsibility, to plan ahead,” Vincent said.
The most rewarding part of creating A Softer Place, Handlin said, is putting the power of decision back in the hands of those that will be receiving the care.
“There’s an empowerment that goes along with this,” Handlin said. “It gives people the power to make the best decision for themselves. I think that’s absolutely essential, letting seniors take charge, rather than life and their health happening to them.”
Handlin said the stigma associated with talking about old age and death prevents people from making plans about the end of their lives.
“Everyone is going to grow old,” Handlin said. “You can’t get away from it. When you say ‘senior,’ people cringe, because they don’t want to think about their own mortality. What we’re saying is that it’s normal, it’s natural, and it needs to be planned for like every other stage of your life.”
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