The Benefits of Being Proactive with Decisions on Aging

By:  Ellen S. Platt, MEd, CRC, CCM, Certified Aging Life Care Manager with The Option Group, LLC – Guest Contributor

As Sheila Martin (name changed to protect patient confidentiality) walked down the hallway of the hospital after her mother’s emergency admission, the realization hit her hard that, had she educated herself on care options earlier, she would be in a much better position than she was now.  She was forced to make quick, seemingly rash decisions on care for her mother that she felt ill-equipped to make.  It was clear that these important decisions should not be made with a knee-jerk reaction, nor should they be made rashly or without careful thought and consideration of the circumstances.   These important decisions should be made while empowered with information and with an educated knowledge base, which Sheila did not seem to have.  Whether it be understanding her mother’s medical conditions and medications, gaining knowledge on Medicare benefits, investigation of skilled nursing facilities, or seeking out options to help someone age in place, it behooves all of us to gain a better understanding of the vast array of services available … or not available in some cases.

It is never too early to take proactive measures to educate oneself on services, resources and professional assistance available to help families navigate longevity.  Being proactive will facilitate not only better health, but better outcomes in a crisis and more options to overcome an unexpected event.  Human nature is to “cross that bridge when we get to it,” but that has proven time and time again to have negative effects on the senior and the family unit in the way of not having needed services, falling short on resources, increasing caregiver stress, upsetting the family dynamic and maxing out the family from a financial, emotional and psychological perspective.  Planning for a crisis (although details of which may be unpredictable) is extremely important to do, as is doing an honest assessment of how well the current situation is, how sustainable it is, and how it would hold up in a crisis.   Often, many more options are available to the patient when this pre-planning is done.

Ideas of items to explore include:

  • Ensuring legal documents such as advance directives and individuals identified to make health care decisions and/or financial decisions are in place.  An attorney who specializes in elder law would be a good resource for these documents and further information.
  • Researching care options along the continuum to know what is available in your geographic area.  These may include home care, adult day care, independent senior living, respite care, assisted living, dementia or memory care, and skilled nursing facility options.  Knowing what to ask is critical during this time.  Visiting facilities and doing your research will help you understand the differences and allow you to know which ones you would go to … and which ones you wouldn’t.
  • Doing some financial planning to have a safety net in place to help pay for care options.  Much to the surprise of many, more care options are paid privately than are paid by Medicare or other insurances.
  • Knowing the pitfalls of the family situation and finding a system that works within the dynamics of a family.  Finding objective, impartial professionals that are equipped with knowledge and information you need to guide families through difficult decisions and focus the discussion on the needs of our loved ones.
  • Creating a “care village” of trusted family, friends, and professionals to be a supportive network to the individual receiving care, and allowing respite for the primary caregiver.
  • Having an emergency plan in place, in the event a caregiver is suddenly unavailable or weather conditions are such that a senior may be stranded without food, heat, or assistance with care needs.
  • Creating a system for managing medications, diagnosed conditions and coordinating medical care
  • Creating and implementing a care plan that facilitates safety, wellness, function and as much independence as possible.  Knowing how to quickly address changes in care needs, ensure access to necessary medical follow up, and provide needed supports. 
  • Understanding medical conditions, the pros and cons of medical recommendations or decisions, and truly understanding the wishes of our loved ones, in the event they are not able to communicate those desires at some point.
  • Having and knowing the resources to intervene in a crisis.  This will allow families to avoid a crisis or lessen the impact of one. 
  • Some family circumstances are such that the primary caregiver or caregivers are trying to manage long-distance.   Finding those professionals to be the boots-on-the-ground in the family’s absence is of utmost importance.

The above list is not an exhaustive one, and are merely ideas to start the conversation.  These are only touching the tip of the Aging Iceberg when it comes to the volumes of information out there.   I encourage you to begin your journey by sifting through the information out there, collecting resources, seeking advice from professionals, and beginning your quest to obtain solid, helpful and accurate information that will form your base for making sound, educated decisions for ourselves and those that we love.

Ms. Ellen S. Platt, MEd, CRC, CCM is founder and owner of The Option Group, LLC.  She is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Certified Care Manager, and a Certified Aging LifeCare Manager, with a span of over 30 years providing care management, advocacy, placement and case coordination services to those with catastrophic injury, chronic diseases and disabilities, as well as those that are aging and navigating longevity.

Under her leadership, The Option Group has been a trailblazer in the senior industry, by collaborating with other leaders to provide high quality, high skilled services that help families navigate very complex situations.  Ellen may be reached at eplatt@theoptiongroup.net or 410-667-0266.