Surrounding yourself with support is a no-brainer—for every person of any age—and of course, the current pandemic has made this even more essential for everyday life. Months into COVID-19, seniors are still trying to accept their “new normal.” According to Kaiser Health News, “many remain fearful of catching the virus and plan to follow strict precautions — social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, limiting excursions to public places — for the indefinite future. Mortality is no longer an abstraction for those who have seen friends and relatives die of COVID-19.”
Supportive people can have roles ranging from beloved family to peers, friends, colleagues, mentors and others. But given coronavirus, the ideal senior support network spreads even more to include professionals who specialize in specific areas of senior service.
The key professionals in your senior support network should include skilled and unskilled workers in healthcare, social services, elder law and insurance. This article introduces some of the important professionals from these fields that you may want to interact with regularly, and it explains their role in supporting seniors.
Knowing the job descriptions of these people will help you and your family navigate your senior support network. You will also be able to leverage the relationships you have with these professionals to help you in your health, financial, recreational and personal matters. Get to know the professionals in your senior support network and learn how to help them help you! Taking this step will give you and your family peace of mind in dealing with the challenges of coronavirus and anticipating life post-pandemic.
According to the CDC, 15.3% of seniors age 65 and older had at least one hospital stay in 2017. These seniors were treated by hospital physicians who often had to respond to senior health crises. In the hospital, and especially during an unexpected health emergency, seniors will encounter physicians who they may have never met before. This is because inpatients, or individuals admitted to a hospital room, are assigned any attending physician once they arrive. This physician will almost definitely be someone different from your primary physician.
The hospital physician has the ultimate goal of ensuring a patient’s physical and mental well-being while they are treated in a hospital. Your hospital physician will prescribe discharge medications and make the recommendations for the best place for your recuperation. They will authorize final discharge plans when you leave the hospital. The rest should be carried on with your primary physician.
COVID-19 may have changed the way you will see your doctor, so it’s important to check with the medical office to see whether your in-person appointment is now a virtual “telehealth” visit. Your primary physician is the person you refer to as “my doctor” and whom you see regularly for typical checkups, prescriptions and other clinic visits. They know you on a personal level and are regularly updated on your health. They are also usually intimately aware of your health history, personality and family. Your primary physician should be included in the event of a health crisis, mainly because they would be able to inform your hospital physician of your state of health better than anyone else, but also because they will have to know what happened to you to make sure you recuperate well afterward.
Keep an open line of communication with your primary physician whether or not you go through a health crisis and keep their contact information on hand in case of an emergency. Let your family know how to reach them, especially if you are a senior with multiple health problems. This can complete the circle of communication if you should ever face the chaotic unknown during and after hospital discharge.
Nurses – RN, LVN, CNA (Home Health Aide)
At the forefront of your hospital treatment (and long-term care for some people) may be the kind, caring face of your nurse. Nurses take care of patients day in and day out. They attend to your care constantly by monitoring your vitals, responding to your emergencies, providing your nutrition and by fulfilling other needs you have while recovering. In the hospital, seniors should know that nurses are not their treating physicians, but aides who can ensure the comfort of their patients and their patients’ families under physicians’ orders. Nurses observe patients’ mental status, mood, cognitive status, stamina and ability to follow directions. They are able to relay this information to physicians, who see you much less often.
There are different kinds of nurses who get involved in senior care. RNs, or registered nurses, provide professional, comprehensive nursing care for patients in an acute care environment. They are coordinated, safe, compassionate and attentive. They will evaluate senior patients to determine required services and plans of care. All RNs have graduated from a nursing program and have a nursing license. LVNs, or licensed vocational nurses, are nurses who care particularly for people who are sick, injured, convalescent or disabled. They plan, organize and direct the nursing functions of patients in units like senior care centers, working under direction of registered nurses or physicians. CNAs, also called certified nursing assistants and home health aides, work beneath these two other types of nurses to provide basic care to patients. They assist them in activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, toileting and eating. You will often encounter CNAs working in assisted living or seniors’ homes as caregivers.
RN Case Manager
A RN case manager is a special type of registered nurse tasked with evaluation and implementation of health care plans. RN case managers may come from backgrounds of nursing and social work. They have clinical experience to understand important processes of assessment, planning, and evaluating care for patients who need assistance making educated decisions about continuing their health care or long-term care. RN case managers use excellent communication and problem-solving skills to help you through the ins and outs of the health care system. They will work to find you resources within and outside of hospitals to maintain your health. RN case managers work in hospitals, for insurance companies, in rehabilitation facilities, in senior communities and within home care.
The discharge planner in a hospital is sometimes also a nurse, but with a different set of responsibilities. They can also be a social worker. The discharge planner’s job is to coordinate all resources to get patients out of the hospital as soon as possible. They source from a network of referrals to figure out where a patient should go for continued care after their hospital discharge. Discharge planners listen closely to seniors and their families while they all work together to find senior care from assisted living facilities, physical therapy providers and caregiver agencies. Help your discharge planner help you by reading this blog to understand the discharge process.
Caregivers are family members or paid helpers who regularly look after the elderly. Though caregivers have much skill, they are categorized as “unskilled workers” who do not require formal education or licensure to perform their duties. (At Amada Senior Care, caregivers have received trainings and certifications, including those on how to minimize risk to senior clients during COVID-19.) Caregivers help seniors perform activities of daily living, or ADLs, to help promote independent living as much as possible. They are companions who watch and guide seniors as they live their daily, regular lives. Oftentimes, caregivers continue the good work done by other senior support professionals who helped seniors through health crises or rehabilitation by making sure they are supervised, healthy and safe.
Good caregivers are hard to find, especially as their workforce dwindles in the troubled senior care industry. However, to find qualified, vetted and dedicated caregivers, give an Amada Senior Care location near you a call.
Skilled Therapists – Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Speech Therapists
Skilled therapists can play a large role in a senior’s discharge planning process. Occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists will assess their patients’ capabilities and deficits to communicate updates to physicians and discharge planners. They also share this information to help family members realize the types of physical care that a patient needs once they are discharged from a hospital.
Occupational therapists work with seniors to achieve fulfilled and satisfied lives. They aim to help seniors live independent, productive lives while working through physical, developmental, social or emotional problems. If you are a senior with a physical or cognitive disability, an occupational therapist can help you understand your limitations in order to hone new or other capabilities that will promote your independent living. Physical therapists are highly educated, licensed health care professionals who can help you reduce pain and improve mobility. They work with past injuries or bodily limitations to strengthen you enough to be comfortable or move freely. Physical therapists can help with rehabilitation after surgeries, such as hip replacements, without invasive treatments – and reduce your need for prescription medications, if possible. Speech therapists work with patients who are limited with communication because of swallowing disorders or cognitive decline. Like other therapists, speech therapists work on strengthening your abilities with consistent, caring guidance.
A medical technician, or a “med tech,” for short, can be found in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. They are responsible for administering medications to residents. Seniors living in homes for the elderly depend on medical technicians to organize, refill and provide important medications that they might have to take every day. Med techs will also take telephone orders from physicians to refill prescriptions and keep their facility’s med carts stocked.
Assisted Living Activity Directors
Coronavirus certainly has curtailed group activities at assisted living communities, but activity directors are still doing what they can to keep residents socially engaged. In assisted living, senior residents often take part in a pattern of daily activities set by the facility’s administration. An activity director plans, schedules and implements these programs to engage and incorporate residents. Activity directors may be the people responsible for some of the most enjoyable events in you or your senior loved one’s life. Concerns activity directors take to mind while planning their activity programs include seniors’ emotional, intellectual, physical, social and spiritual needs.
You might find an activity director organizing resident attendance, communicating schedules throughout the community or even transporting residents from place to place. They have an ear and heart for senior citizens and should be attentive to seniors’ preferences and needs. It’s certainly advisable to ask questions about coronavirus precautions being taken and the communication plan with residents if you or a loved one are considering a move into a community.
As have assisted living communities, municipal senior centers around the country have had to hit the pause button during these pandemic times. A recreational leader is similar to an activity director because they are responsible for organizing activities that seniors can take part in to fulfill emotional, physical, social and intellectual needs. However, recreational leaders are often government employees who work through your city hall. Perhaps there is a community center in your city where recreational leaders organize things like movie nights, arts and craft socials, mixers and group exercise events for seniors. Recreational activities like these are very beneficial to seniors who wish to be a part of their community. They’re often free of charge as well. Check with your local senior center or City Hall to learn about what physical activities are available while following safety protocols or what new, virtual activities might be offered.
Geriatric Care Manager
Geriatric care managers are professionally trained to work with seniors and their families to help seniors reach the highest level of functioning. Your geriatric care manager may have been educated in various fields of human services, such as social work, psychology, nursing or gerontology. They coordinate services for the elderly and their families and monitor their progress. Geriatric care managers are some of the biggest advocates in senior service because they act as a liaison between different providers, seniors and their families to find solutions that best fit seniors in need.
You may have had to hire a geriatric care manager to take part in a discharge process. Oftentimes, geriatric care managers maintain independent businesses in the community. Once hired, they do a comprehensive assessment of their client and create a care plan reflecting the best environment and services that he or she needs. The family of a patient is highly involved in this process. If you believe your loved one could benefit from the advocacy of a geriatric care manager, visit the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) website.
Elder lawyers are a unique category of legal specialists who help families with issues pertaining to aging. Most of the time, elder lawyers help families pay for long-term care costs or preserving assets. Elder lawyers will likely advise seniors on how to maintain the value of assets including estates, pensions and investments. They will also help seniors prepare and plan for covering long-term care while keeping their assets intact.
Most elder lawyers belong to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). Members of NAELA work together, learn from each other, and leverage broad experience to help people who encounter legal issues as they age. With an elder lawyer, you will be able to plan for special needs, incapacity, long-term care, Medicaid and Medicare coverage, long-term care insurance and health care decision making. You can also consult an elder lawyer for estate planning decisions concerning trusts, wills and beneficiaries.
Financial Advisors are available to you through several organizations or even in the form of a trusted friend or family member. However, finding a good financial advisor depends on whether or not you can trust your candidates to competently counsel you in managing your wealth. Working with a financial advisor develops a very personal relationship because they will be aware of the uses and location of your money. They will become intimately aware of your spending and saving tendencies, wishes regarding your finances in the case that you become incapacitated and the network of people who your assets support or affect.
You must feel comfortable with your financial advisor and monitor their work to make sure that your money is safely taken care of. Financial advisors touch large sums of money in helping you pay for long-term care or managing your estate. They must keep you informed of their business and stay in tune with yours.
Insurance of any kind can be a hassle, especially when it works in a carrier’s favor to avoid paying for your claims. Work assertively with the insurance agents whose organizations carry your health, life and long-term care insurance plans. This takes communication, documentation and persistence to maximize coverage of your health and long-term care claims. Often, working with insurance agents can be too difficult for senior citizens to manage on their own. It can be even more difficult for their children or other family members to help with. Regarding the different types of insurance you may have, few people are able to navigate this, besides yourself. But when it comes to insurance for long-term care—one of the largest expenses a senior can have—let an Amada Senior Care advocate be part of your senior support network.