No question, people are living longer. The cohort of people 85 years and older is the fastest growing segment of our population. People are not only living longer, they are living healthier and more active lives. It seems each day brings news of someone celebrating a 90th, 95th or 100 plus birthday. What a blessing.
Sometimes this trend can lull us into missing the warning signs that our elderly loved one needs help. Those warning signs include:
- gradual weight loss
- decline in mood with increased tearfulness, apathy, fatigue or anxiety
- change in behavior
- poor hygiene and grooming
- home disordered, cluttered, uncleaned
- increased frailty
- repeated falls and trips to the hospital
- problems managing medications
- difficulty handling finances, bills unpaid, unnecessary purchases
- repetitive questions, skipped appointments, telephone calls at odd hours
We want to encourage a person to be as independent as they can be but that independence has to be in proportion to a realistic evaluation of his or her capabilities. It can be difficult for a family member to fully understand what his or her parent or spouse needs. Many older people worry about becoming dependent and a burden. They often try to cover up problems they are having. Older adults struggle with a sense of loss and wounded pride when they can no longer accomplish the tasks they managed easily all their lives. And of course, it is natural to want to see our parents or spouse as they always were. It is hard to face his or her mortality and, by extension, our own.
It is for these reasons an assessment of your loved one by an aging life care specialist (sometimes referred to as a geriatric care manager) can be important. A care manager is a health care professional, often a licensed social worker or registered nurse, with specialized training in geriatrics. The care manager will come to the home to evaluate an older adult’s:
- functional abilities (how they get around, shower, dress, prepare meals)
- daily routines
- cognitive level
- medical history
- home safety
- family/social supports
- financial eligibility for home care services
The findings are used to formulate a set of specific recommendations, a kind of roadmap that leads to a plan of care. The plan of care should always incorporate the values, preferences and wishes of the senior. Respect for the older adult’s autonomy is a cornerstone of any plan; however, it should not become an excuse for allowing the senior to struggle on his or her own. Today there are so many innovative and dignified ways to provide the extra help needed to maintain your loved one’s highest quality of life.
For additional information, contact Susan Lilly, Director of Aging Life Care Management, Jewish Home at Home.
Susan Lilly is the director of Aging Life Care Management of Jewish Home at Home, the Jewish Home Family’s community-based program whose mission is to provide the expertise, services and support that enable older adults to age safely and meaningfully in their own home.
By Susan Lilly