Arnold Eppel gets telephone calls every day at the Baltimore County Department of Aging from panicked children of elderly parents who can't live alone anymore.
They don't know where else to turn.
"It's my mother, and I'm paralyzed," they tell Eppel, the agency's deputy director.
Eppel's staff is offering help in the form of a 52-page consumer guide to elderly living, "Finding the Forest Through the Trees." The book, to be released tomorrow, contains questions that children should ask about their parents' care and lists possible answers.
The guide is broken into five chapters that offer advice on how seniors can alter their homes to accommodate disabilities, how to choose a retirement community, an assisted-living facility or a nursing home, and what legal documents need to be completed.
"It's not easy to make these choices," Eppel said.
The book, he said, offers alternatives to nursing homes and will help people make practical choices with which they can feel comfortable.
Sue Ward, secretary of the state's Department of Aging, said this is the most comprehensive consumer guide to senior living she has encountered.
Stephanie Garrity, chief of client and community services for the state Department of Aging, said the guide is unusual because it helps seniors and their families ask tough questions about living choices.
"They're paralyzed because they don't even know where to begin," she said.
The book is consumer-oriented, offering phone numbers and Web addresses for government and nonprofit agencies to help families navigate through the morass of living choices for the elderly.
The chapter on altering a home to accommodate disabilities, for example, gives the number of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, plus tips on how to avoid being cheated by unscrupulous contractors.
The chapter on choosing a nursing home warns: "Wallpaper and pretty furnishings are nice but nothing takes the place of quality care."
Instead, the book suggests that anyone shopping for a nursing home talk to residents, check food quality and whether the building is clean and free of odors, and observe "the manner in which staff speaks to residents."
The book, Eppel said, also gives important tips about information that many people don't know is available to the public.
"Read the most recent survey from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene," states the nursing home chapter. "State regulations require that the survey be available to anyone who wishes to read it."
The book also addresses many other problems related to aging, including "the driving dilemma," how to write a will and a living will, and how to pay for a nursing home.
Paid for by Patuxent Publishing and Greater Baltimore Medical Center, the book will be inserted in Patuxent's community newspapers and will be offered free at Baltimore County senior centers.