Oh, for the good old days. When we were kids, we eagerly awaited the evening newspaper just to read the "funny papers." They are not always "funny" anymore, but a week or so ago, the comic strip in The Hays Daily News called "Crankshaft" was thought-provoking. One night, Crankshaft came home, took off his coat and his wife asked, "How is your Mom doing?" Crankshaft replied "Nothing broken, but these falls of hers are getting scarier." Mom answered, "What about that medical alert beeper that we got for her?" Crankshaft replied, "She doesn't like to wear it. She's afraid she'll break it when she falls."

"Crankshaft" has had several strips about what was happening to his older parents. Perhaps we can identify with what was happening in his home. Remember the "good old days" when Mom or Dad were steady on their feet and could answer our problems with a sure solution? And when they ran errands for us when we were in a bind? We all have wonderful memories of the help we have received from our parents -- and of the help we have given. It is pretty scary to realize that the people who were once independent as "all get out" are no longer independent and may not even be safe in their own home.

What happens when the roles reverse and the "once child" becomes the decision maker for the parent? Or it might even be me looking for answers for a spouse or myself. How can we make the best decisions that impact our care and safety? As we try to find our way through the maze of these questions and concerns, we may be tempted to throw up our hands in exasperation and ask, "Where do I get an accessible and reliable source of answers?"

A universal checklist that would answer all our individual needs would be very helpful. It would probably say that the first and most important thing to do is to discuss with family what our desires are in the event we need more care and assistance than we are able to give to ourselves or family member. Family members are now responsible for 80 percent of elder care. It is important for them to know where and how we or our aging parents prefer to live. This topic is often ignored until a crisis occurs and decisions have to be made. What a problem it is not have any idea what the next step should be when the choice affects not only physical but mental and emotional well-being.

In 1965, Congress signed into law the Older American's Act, which established the Administration on Aging within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and called for the creation of state units on aging. In 1973, Area Agencies on Aging were established. It is surprising how few adults are even vaguely familiar with the Older Americans Act, which has resulted in funding for senior centers, Foster Grandparents, retired senior volunteer programs, nutrition programs and the Senior Care Act as well as other services to assist the frail elderly.

The Northwest Kansas Area Agency on Aging is located here in Hays at 510 W. 29th, Ste. B. It is a reliable source of information and assistance. Skilled and knowledgeable professionals are available to assist people through the maze of difficult decision making. Sometimes the most difficult questions are "What do I need to stay in my own home?" and "What services are available, and how do I access them?" The staff can help locate and access the services needed such as case management, personal care, homemaker and elder needs that assist seniors to remain in their own homes if at all possible. Also available are resources for legal services, elder abuse prevention, health insurance counseling, prescription assistance and the long-term care ombudsman program. A free booklet, "Explore Your Options" by the Kansas Department of Aging, helps identify and answer many of the questions elders and their families may have and is available at the Hays office.

Today, nursing home care is a major expense and one that could exhaust the savings of families very quickly. There are insurance plans that will assist with expenses of care in the event that it becomes necessary. However, many older adults did not have access to these plans in their working days and many cannot afford them at advanced age. The state of Kansas and private insurance companies are encouraging younger people to investigate The Kansas Partnership for Long-Term Care. This involves private funding of long-term care and a legal protection of assets.

As we read this, we may be independent, healthy and active. However, at some point, we may require additional assistance. Information can be a tremendous help. On May 7, the Kansas Governor's Conference on Aging will be in Topeka. This conference has numerous workshops that are of interest to all, especially elders and caregivers. Information is available at the Hays Area Agency and the Kansas Department of Aging Web site.

The Department of Health and Human Services online eldercare locator is also an excellent site for information and has unbiased information and assistance resources at the state and community level. It is sponsored by the Administration on Aging in partnership with state and local area agencies and is funded through the Older Americans Act.

A program on PBS at 8 p.m. today is called "Caring for Your Parents." It might be helpful to any of us experiencing aging (that is all of us by the way). However, it will focus on becoming caregivers for aging parents. Caring for an aging parent, elderly spouse or close friend presents difficult challenges that many of us already experience -- especially when a crisis hits and you are suddenly faced with the responsibilities of elder care.

Aging really should be the "Golden Years." Let's try to reduce the tarnish.

Web site information:

Governor's Conference on Aging www.agingkansas.org/GovConf/govconfindex.htm

The Kansas Partnership for Long-Term Care www.ksinsurance.org/ltc/faq.htm

Kansas Department of Aging www.agingkansas.org/index.htm

Eldercare Locator www.eldercare.gov