By Mark Friedman
One of my jobs as Owner of Senior Helpers Boston and South Shore, is to keep on top of trends in our industry that can influence care to our clients. I am a voracious reader and student, always eager to learn new strategies from medical professionals.
While I am ready to take it all in, I am also conscious of keeping it all simple. I have learned that while delivering world class home care is serious business, it does not have to be complicated. Because keeping home care simple for families to understand, access, and benefit from is ultimately what matters.
No time is it more important than to take a deep breath and keep it simple than over the holidays, which we often refer to as “OMG” times. This is the returning home of adult children and “sandwichers” to find parents and family elders not aging well in place. For months they have been perched their respective distance from hundreds or thousands of miles away. What they hear during Sunday calls and in energetic emails is “everything is just fine,” when in fact, it is the opposite of what they see when they walk through the front door.
Then, it’s “OMG, what has happened to Mom and Dad!!”
Surviving “OMG” with The Simple Art of Listening
I like to call this “listening between the lines” because sometimes seniors say one thing and are revealing a whole host of “others.” By asking simple questions and listening with true intention, it is amazing what can be gleaned from easy conversations.
Asking about neighbors, foods you know your Mom loves, weekly games, and outings you know Dad enjoys, are intentional ways of discovering the patterns of their daily lives. Do they get out of the house with frequency? Are they engaged in the community they love? Do they see long standing friends?
I guarantee you will begin to see a pattern of daily life that will or will not include a solid diet, an engagement in the world around them, and a general contentment for being at home. Or not.
If you are concerned about the “or not,” then perhaps it is time to consider a plan for support.
Keeping the Plan Simple
When it comes to setting up a plan of support for a parent (who is at best skeptical) I tell clients that a simple plan is usually the smartest plan.
At Senior Helpers Boston and South Shore, we encourage our clients to keep their support plans simple by focusing on four ingredients.
1. Making Home a Safe Place to Be
Safety at home is an often overlooked and underrated aspect of aging in place successfully. I’m convinced it’s because we tend to stop looking at our surroundings because they are all too familiar to us, and we don’t see our daily environs with the critical eye towards “safety.”
If a loved one has ever been hospitalized and in rehab after surgery, your antenna is heightened to details like stairs and steps, ramps, floor surfaces, gates,, beds, curbs, grab bars, doorways, beds, toilets, showers, and bathtubs.
At Senior Helpers Boston and South Shore we can serve as a third party expert and inspect the safety of your home. Armed with this intelligence we can connect you with durable equipment suppliers. The end game is a safe home, preventing accidents that send seniors to the ER.
2. Managing the Medical “Self”
“Self-Care Management” is the bold new thinking in senior care. Although it is pretty self-explanatory, it is not necessarily easy to execute. So what does this really mean?
The “Medical Self” includes a variety of activities. In addition to understanding and complying with medications, it involves exercise, proper diet and nutritional habits, and making and following up with doctor appointments.
If your Mom or Dad are in control of their medical self, you would instinctively know they are doing well while aging in place at home. Perhaps you have concerns?
During your holiday visit you might notice Mom’s confusion over medications and recent trips to the doctor. She might need support in the short term to establish routines and better communications. At Senior Helpers Boston and South Shore we often ensure our clients get to their scheduled medical appointments and follow-up to ensure care plans are kept current, and caregiver instructions are updated.
3. Supporting Autonomy and Independence
If we have learned anything from our elders, it is that they hate to lose their autonomy and independence. Anything we can do to support them in retaining and maintaining both, we must do. With a little bit of structure around the house, hands-on care and support, I have seen our clients re-energized in amazing ways. If there is a “secret sauce” to successfully aging in place at home, supporting these important activities is it.
During your holiday visit, you might see your loved one has issues with one or more basic “activities of daily living,” or ADLs and IADLs, the very activities they fiercely protect because they symbolize independence. In the short term, help might be required in: dressing and grooming, toileting, bathing, managing finances, transportation, shopping and meal preparation, housecleaning, and home maintenance. Providing support as opposed to taking over, will ensure they maintain control and independence, albeit with a helping hand.
4. Engaging in Life
The holidays bring a rush of energy and excitement into the family home and as adult children and “sandwichers” we forget that after we are gone, life returns to “normal” for loved ones. So what IS normal? What do her hours, days and weeks look like? How does he fill up his time and stay busy and engaged? Planning and taking charge of their “medical” lives are one thing, but just as important is the plan for daily life engagement.
Countless studies have revealed that busy, involved, occupied, and absorbed minds and hearts are happier and more content. We know from our work with seniors that successful aging in place at home means finding ways to bring the world into it; or getting out of it every now and then. And like everything else, it takes a plan.
We have seen with Parkinson’s clients, as example, how specific exercises like Rock-Steady-Boxing can build power, strength, flexibility and speed, as well as lessen symptoms of this disease. It is why we have local relationships with fitness centers and make arrangements for our clients to tone-up in offered classes. The fact is, we have deep ties to senior centers and organizations in all 75 communities we serve because we understand the importance of their role in helping elders successfully age in place at home.
A Simple Plan Yields Beautiful Results
We help families structure a support plan around these four ingredients for one major reason: it works.
We start by structuring realistic goals for helping loved ones successfully age in place at home: What does Mom or Dad really want to do? Get back to normal activities after surgery? Re-engage with friends at the senior center on a regular basis? Eat more nourishing meals to gain strength for gardening outdoors or return to walking in the dog park?
Secondly, we don’t take broad brush strokes in establishing support plans, but a surgical approach. We address the specific issues that will get in the way of success, without straining the overall family dynamic, or “ecosystem.”
A plan might involve a combination of managing medications, better nutrition and life-engagement activities. It could be one that addresses safety issues at home in combination with a few days a week of hands-on care or other support. Each client plan is customized and we recognize it can change at a moment’s notice.
We have nurses and experts needed to manage risks, medical conditions, and minimize emergencies. We have nurse case managers and nurse-supervised caregivers serving as team leaders to help our clients meet their aging-in-place goals, and intervene when these goals are too ambitious. We are here to support and engage adult children and sandwichers on the scene with confidence, skills, and training.
If your holidays this year come with “OMG” moments, we are ready for them. Let our collective experience and expertise help you shape them into a simple plan and beautiful results.
About the Author
Mark Friedman is the Owner of Senior Helpers Boston and South Shore. Passionate about seniors and healthcare, the goal of his agency is to set a new standard in home care in Massachusetts. First by delivering an exceptional home care experience in a combination of highly trained and high-touch caregivers. And secondly by becoming a significant connection for elders to resources and services in the 100 communities his company serves. www.SeniorHelpers.com/SouthShoreMA Call: 781-421-3123.
Reprinted from the January issue of the South Shore Senior News.