Carolyn is an 85-year-old retired school teacher living independently in Houston, Texas. She is beginning to need assistance managing her affairs and caring for herself. She's having problems with bathing, dressing, cooking, getting to doctor appointments, doing her shopping and paying her bills. Her only child, Ralph, lives in Dayton, Ohio. He worries about his mother constantly and wishes he lived closer so he could help her out. He knows he needs to take action; he just doesn't know what to do.
Martha is another 85-year-old whose needs are different from those of Carolyn. Martha's memory and mental functioning are declining at an alarming rate, and she's received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. It's obvious that she isn't safe living on her own. Her daughter, Susan, who lives nearby, hired a home-care company to help care for her mother. But Martha hated the arrangement and fired the caregiver the company had sent.
Susan knows her mom needs to be placed in a facility, but doesn't know what level of care would be needed, and she isn't familiar with any of the facilities in her area. To make things worse, Martha is adamantly refusing to move. Susan has simply reached the end of her rope.
Ralph and Susan have something important in common. Namely, both could significantly benefit from the assistance of an aging life care professional. Aging life care is a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults. A professional in this field--founded in 1985--guides, advocates, and serves as a resource to families caring for an older relative.
You may need an aging life care professional if:
• The person you are caring for has limited or no family support.
• Your family has just become involved with helping the individual and needs direction about available services.
• The person you are caring for has multiple medical or psychological issues.
• The person you are caring for is unable to live safely in his/her current environment.
• Your family is either "burned out" or confused about care solutions.
• Your family has limited time and/or expertise in dealing with your loved one's chronic care needs.
• Your family is at odds regarding care decisions.
• The person you are caring for is not pleased with current care providers and requires advocacy.
• The person you are caring for is confused about his/her own financial and/or legal situation.
• Your family needs education and/or direction in dealing with behaviors associated with dementia.
Aging life care professionals are engaged to assist in a variety of areas, such as:
• Housing - helping families evaluate and select appropriate level of housing or residential options.
• Home care services - determining types of services that are right for a client and assisting the family to engage and monitor those services.
• Medical management - attending doctor appointments, facilitating communication between doctor, client, and family, and, if appropriate, monitoring the client's adherence to medical orders and instructions.
• Communication - keeping family members and professionals informed as to the well-being and changing needs of the client.
• Social activities - providing opportunity for client to engage in social, recreational, or cultural activities that enrich their quality of life.
• Legal - referring to or consulting with an elder law attorney; providing expert opinion for courts
• Financial - may include reviewing or overseeing bill paying or consulting with an accountant.
• Entitlements - providing information on federal and state entitlements; connecting families to local programs
• Safety and security - monitoring the client at home; recommending technologies to add to security or safety; observing changes and potential risks of exploitation or abuse.
Aging life care professionals typically charge between $100 and $200 per hour, although the fee may rise to $250 per hour in some large metropolitan areas. Medicare does not cover the cost but some long-term care insurance companies do. To find an aging life care professional in your area, go to AgingLifeCare.org or call the Aging Life Care Association at 520-881-8008.
A slightly different version of this article was published on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy, and the co-author (with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.