To Grandmother’s House We Go

Visiting Over the Holidays and Discovering Your Elderly Parent is Not Functioning So Well This may have already happened in your life.  Perhaps you were with an elder relative at Thanksgiving and he/she just was not functioning as well as in the past.  You, and/or your family members know you must respond in some way, but, what to do?  Or, with Christmas coming, you know you need to implement some changes, or discuss the issue with your elderly loved one. There is no one way to address the myriad of issues that can occur, but assessing your loved one’s safety in their living environment is a good place to start.  When safety is compromised, it is important to act quickly, and appropriately.  Engage your elderly loved one to get their perspective, and to understand their wishes for their care.  Discussing this with them will also help determine if they are understanding the risks that you see.  If there is local family who can become more involved, that is a great place to start.  Determine who can do what and how much time they can provide.  Determine what your loved one’s needs are, i.e., meal preparation, shopping, driving, doctor’s appointments, socialization, housekeeping, in-home care.  Sometimes, when possible, it is best to think this through by first considering the short term, and then the long term.  Especially in the case of health emergencies, resolving the immediate health issues where possible, and then determining a plan for the long term. Regarding the long term, if matters seem overwhelming and you are unfamiliar with the resources in your loved one’s area, consider consulting with a specialist in elder care.  The local Area Agency on Aging (www.n4a.org/) can help with identifying resources, as can an aging life care professional (www.aginglifecare.org).   Getting a geriatric assessment can help you look throughly at the situation and also enlists the assistance of an outside professional in the field of aging.  Sometimes employers provide an elder care benefit, so check to see if yours does, and access the benefit if you have it. The bottom line, this is often the time of year when we find things are not what they were with the elders we love.  We must act in their best interest by assuring their safety and well-being.

What Should We Expect from a Care Plan?

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) stipulates
that a care manager, in order “to provide the highest quality of service to clients,
should develop a flexible care plan that is developed in conjunction with the
older person and/or client system.”

A care plan should be comprehensive.  The following are the major subject areas of a comprehensive care plan as outlined by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.

1. Reason for Assessing the Care Recipient

2. Demographic Information

3. Medical History/Medical Needs

4. Cognitive Needs

5. Activities of Daily Living & Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

6. Environment

7. Assessment of Care Recipient’s Support Structure

8. Financial

9. Medical Benefit Coverage

10. Legal Needs

11. Emergency Planning

A Care Plan should then provide:

1.  Recommendations, which should include identified areas of concern, in areas of:

Fall/Home safety


Personal care (ADLs)

Household management (IADLs)

Nutrition Cognitive/Memory Impairment

Depression/Mental well being

Medical/Medicine Management

Primary caregiver burnout

2.  Description of Risks, Issues, Problems, or Area of Concerns
3.  Services to resolve areas of concern.
4.  Recommending Next Steps: care manager’s suggestions to accomplish recommendations, including a timeline for accomplishment.

What Does an Aging Life Care Specialist Do? (Part 2)

What are the Benefits of Using an Aging Life Care Specialist?

The benefits are both to you and your loved one.  Especially if you are a working professional, adding an Aging Life Care Specialist (formerly known as Professional Geriatric Care Manager) to your caregiving team will allow you to focus on your professional and family life, and know that the work of managing the caregiving is being accomplished by a professional who is able to focus on your loved one’s wants and needs.  Aging Life Care Specialists are able to provide service that covers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  He or she communicates with family, medical professionals and all other service providers.  With a duty of cost containment and quality control, Aging Life Care Specialists can help a family avoid inappropriate placements and unnecessary hospitalizations, thereby keeping costs down, saving time, and maintaining a high quality of life.

How do I Find an Aging Life Care Specialist?

A great place to start your search is the website of the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA).  Easy to use, the “Find an Aging Life Care Expert” search function allows one to search in multiple ways (zip code, state, town, etc).

Do You Have Suggestions for How to Choose an Aging Life Care Specialist?

The ALCA website has a list of questions one can use to interview prospective care managers, and the questions can be used during an initial conversation over the phone.  Interviewing more than one Aging Life Care Specialist is recommended.  While this is a selection of a professional, it is also a personal choice, and you want to be sure the Aging Life Care Specialist you select is someone you feel you can work with, as well as with your loved one.

Kathleen S. Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM, is an Aging Life Care Specialist in Northern Virginia.  She works with seniors and their families, and with organizations and their employees or members to help guide them through the challenges of aging and caregiving.

This article was updated on 10 April 2016.

What Does an Aging Life Care Specialist Do? (Part 1)

What is an Aging Life Care Specialist? 

According to the Aging Life Care Association (formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers), an Aging Life Care Specialist is defined as “a health and human services specialist who helps families who are caring for older relatives.”

The Aging Life Care Specialist assists older adults and persons with disabilities in attaining their maximum functional potential. In addition, the Aging Life Care Specialist is an experienced guide and resource for families of older adults and others with chronic needs, including helping those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinsons or exhibiting symptoms of dementia.”

Who are Aging Life Care Specialists?

Aging Life Care Specialists come from several fields, such as nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology, with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care.

Aging Life Care Specialists who are members of the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) are committed to adhering to the ALCA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.  This information can be viewed at Aging Life Care.

When Would I Need an Aging Life Care Specialist?

Aging Life Care Specialists are often called upon in times of caregiving crises, but when a caregiver or the family is feeling overwhelmed or unsure of what steps to take next, an Aging Life Care Specialist can be a professional to call upon for an assessment or consultation to help evaluate the situation and provide recommendations.  As in any complex situation, it is better to have a plan going in, so bringing a specialist onboard as part of your caregiving team in the earlier stages is a smart step.  It gives everyone an opportunity to know each other without the burden of a crisis.  It gives the specialist a chance to know the older adult closer to his or her baseline. Most importantly, having a specialist to put their eyes and ears on the situation can help improve the current living situation and quality of life, i.e., identifying fall risks in the home, identifying community resources to improve socialization, identify caregivers, locating transportation options, etc.

Part 2 of this article is available here.

Kathleen S. Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM, is an Aging Life Care Specialist in Northern Virginia.  She works with seniors and their families, and with organizations and their employees or members to help guide them through the challenges of aging and caregiving.



This article was updated on Aug 30, 2015.

Caregiving as a Calling

Today I attended the memorial service for a caregiver who worked with a younger adult client.  This man, unfortunately for all who knew him, died less than four weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.  It is a shock to everyone who knows him, and many of us are still looking for him to call or e-mail or show up for his job as caregiver.  For as a caregiver and a human being, he was one of those rare persons – kind, giving, patient, funny, and easy going, and, as I learned at the memorial, a gifted prankster.   But best of all as a caregiver, he had that “certain something.”  He loved what he did as a caregiver, and he did it with enthusiasm, creativity and total commitment.  He believed in giving himself thoroughly.  The person he cared for knew she had someone special, a “one in a million.”  He brought a quality to her life that she had not known, and reminded me that caregiving may be a job, but for the gifted caregiver, it is a calling.