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What Matters Most to Seniors? Q&A With Shelley Lyford, CEO of West Health

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What matters most to seniors? In my work as a physician and CEO I sometimes wonder how those of us in "the industry" can continually improve our focus on the goals and preferences of the people we serve. We all are passionate about making a difference in the lives of seniors and family caregivers, but sometimes I worry the day-to-day realities of business and policy can distract from what matters most.

West Health focuses on helping seniors successfully age in place, with access to the health and support services that promote and protect their dignity, independence and quality of life. It's inspiring to see the innovative healthcare delivery models you're developing, and the cutting edge policy activities you're leading. Your initiatives include bringing healthcare where seniors live, integrating community-based care coordination and dental services within a senior wellness center and creating an emergency care unit specifically for seniors, to name just a few! You're uniquely positioned to understand the big picture. West Health appears to be a catalyst for envisioning and creating a better future for seniors. I would love to learn more about what you are hearing from seniors that matters most.

Dignity and independence are important issues for seniors. While many of us may remain independent throughout our lives, others may need help with daily living tasks like dressing, eating, walking, showering and driving. For all the challenges we may face as we age, many can be overcome or diminished with a little help and planning by caregivers, while including seniors in decision-making.

Steve Landers:
I'm glad you mentioned driving, that can really be a difficult subject. Do you have any advice?

Shelley Lyford:
Yes, driving can be a major issue. Many of us equate driving with independence, so when we have to give away the car keys, we may feel we're in some way giving away some of our freedom. Caregivers and family members can help us through the transition and not downplaying how significant a time in our lives this could represent. Talk it through. Address concerns. Figure out ways to lessen the blow. Identify alternative modes of transportation. Accompany loved ones on their trips and create a transportation schedule for important events like family gatherings, doctor visits and community activities. Doctors and other healthcare providers should address driving safety proactively, before a crisis, when there's time to plan.

Steve Landers:
What other things matter most to seniors?

Shelley Lyford:

Sometimes as we age, there's a sense of loss because of physical, social and/or environmental changes. Having a sense of purpose gives each of us the strength to persevere through difficult challenges, transitions, relationships and activities. According to research, finding purpose and staying engaged may even help people live longer. Both seniors and caregivers may consider giving back through volunteer work or mentoring. This could mean all the difference in the world to both the giver and recipient.

Health and overall quality of life are also critically important. More than a few say, "What good is having money, if you don't have your health?" Poor health is not a natural consequence of aging. Better health may be achieved through good nutrition, exercise and social engagement. Emotional, social and everyday life issues must also be addressed, and care must be coordinated so we can move away from only treating the disease and not treating the person. We must take a holistic approach to providing care.

Steve Landers:
In my work at Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, we focus on home healthcare, hospice, and other home-based health services. Are seniors thinking about care at home?

Shelley Lyford:

Being able to age in place in the comfort of their own homes is a big priority for seniors. A survey from AARP confirms this. It found that about 90 percent of people 65 and older want to remain living in their homes for as long as possible. This is so important to think about when planning for the future, involving everything from home design to medical care to community and social support. Our group, along with many others, are interested in developing innovative approaches to home-centered care with the potential to keep seniors healthier and spending more time at home than in hospitals or emergency rooms. It's already happening in many communities. We think it can happen in many more.

Most of the seniors we work with want to stay connected to family and friends, and prioritize social interaction, which brings a greater sense of belonging. Personal time is the best, but when that can't happen, social media can do wonders. Seniors can text and post pictures like anybody else and see what's going on in the lives of their loved ones. Facebook and Instagram are not just for kids!

Steve Landers:

Shelley, thank you for sharing these thoughts and ideas about what matters most to seniors. As our senior population in America ages and grows, our healthcare system and communities need to address the significant challenges never faced before. Your perspectives and the work of West Health will go a long way in enabling successful aging for seniors and every one of us.

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