Rockland- Aging is BIG business. The key word here is "business."
With the demographics as they are, people living longer, boomers coming of age, new products and services are introduced each day for seniors and their caregivers. Many of these products and services are fantastic and live up to their promises. Others, however, rely on fancy web sites and literature, celebrity endorsements and microscopic disclaimers to make a sale. These tactics are successful because they play on the vulnerabilities of the target audience, often when they are most overwhelmed and desperate for help.
Perhaps you are caring for your spouse who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other chronic condition. Maybe you are looking for guidance because your parents are no longer safe in their home. Whatever your situation, you need to be an informed consumer. You’ve got to ask some important questions in order to properly assess whether a product or service is right for you or your loved one.
In this first of a three-part series, we’ll discuss some of the hidden issues and questions that seniors and their caregivers need to consider asking in order to make educated, informed decisions.
Let's start by dispelling the myth that anything in business is "free." Let’s face it - if something was truly free, the provider would be a charity rather than a business. Once you accept that businesses exist to make money, you will want to understand how companies are being paid in order to determine whether the product or service will benefit you. You need to ask questions and demand answers. Below are a few common examples.
Senior Living Referral Services. Each morning while I am having my coffee and watching the news, I see the commercial with Joan Lunden promoting a “free senior living referral source.” And, each morning, I want to yell at my TV, frustrated that the consumer is not being provided with the full story. Sure, there is likely a disclaimer in print so small that it is illegible, but let’s face it - nobody is reading the fine print, even if it is large enough to see. Viewers trust Joan Lunden because they watched her for years on morning TV. They trust her because she tells about her own struggle to find the right resources for her aging mother, and that is very compelling. I went to the web site for this company to research a bit further and found the following disclaimer – again, in print so tiny and a font so light I had trouble reading it: “Our service is offered at no charge to families as the communities and providers in our network pay (our) fee …” We do not own, operate, recommend, or endorse any of these communities or providers.”
So, if a senior living referral source such as this does not recommend or endorse any of the communities they refer you to, you need to ask some questions in order to determine if this service will benefit you. Consider asking them the following questions:
1) If you do not recommend or endorse any of the facilities you will refer me to, what are the criteria that you use? Is it solely that they pay a fee for the referral?
2) How much will you be paid by a facility if my loved one is placed there?
3) Are there other facilities in the area that you have not referred us to and, if so, why not? Is it solely that they have not agreed to pay a fee for the referral?
4) Will you put the criteria you are basing the referral on in writing?
Web-based senior planning resources. These sites are multiplying like rabbits on the web, each promising to be the hub of information and a central place to locate quality geriatric care managers, elder law attorneys, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and more. Some of these sites do provide valuable information to seniors and caregivers but, again, you must understand how they are getting paid. Ask the following questions:
1) Do the “experts” on your site pay to be designated as experts?
2) If not, what is the criteria one must meet to qualify as an “expert?”
3) Do providers (geriatric care managers, elder law attorneys, facilities, etc) pay to be listed on your site, or to be highlighted or listed first in search results?
4) How do you ensure that the information listed on your site is current and accurate?
5) Can you guarantee the security of any personal information I provide through the site? How?
6) Do you share my information with any other person or entity?
7) Do I have to register or sign up in order to use the site?
One site that I recently tested asked for far too much personal information. In order to request information from a specific elder law attorney, for example, site users are asked to provide the name of the person they are concerned about and the details of their condition. It is unclear who receives the inquiries submitted online or whether this personal information is protected. This particular site also offers a forum for family members to share information and communicate about their loved one – to list doctor appointments and medications, post estate planning documents, etc. This sounds great in theory, but there is no guarantee that the communications are private or secure. There are a number of other forums where family members can communicate without going through a web-based senior planning site such as this, and I caution you not to provide any personal information on such a site unless your questions are answered to your satisfaction, preferably in writing.
Personally, I believe the best way to contact a professional is directly, with no third-party intermediary. The best resource to find an elder law attorney is through the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, at www.massnaela.com (or www.naela.org in other states). A qualified geriatric care manager can be found through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at www.caremangers.org. You can research assisted living facilities through www.massalfa.org (Mass Assisted Living Facilities Association), and nursing homes through www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare. Nursing Home Compare provides you with the most recent inspection results for all nursing homes in the state, including any deficiencies you should be aware of.
There is nothing wrong with companies trying to make a profit by providing products and services that address the needs of seniors and their caregivers. But, it is up to you to look beyond the celebrity endorsements and glitzy marketing. It is up to you to determine if “experts” earn their designation through knowledge and experience, or by paying a fee to be listed as such; whether a referral service will refer you only to facilities that pay a fee to be included. If the fancy marketing and celebrity endorsements give you one impression, but the fine print says something completely different, you need to ask questions and demand answers before proceeding. Remember, businesses are in business for one reason - to make money. You must understand how they are being paid in order to truly understand if the product or service offers value to you.
Note: In our next post, we will discuss financial services sales and MassHealth application prep services.