May has been proclaimed Older Americans Month for over 50 years. This year’s theme is “Blaze a Trail”. The purpose of this month is to raise awareness of issues faced by older adults. It is also a time to recognize the many contributions that older adults have made.
The theme for this year was definitely fitting for these purposes. But it also is a challenge to those who are in the aging-services community to look for new and innovative ways to provide support and services to our clients. As the demand for services continues to grow and resources to support them remain flat, blazing a trail with new ways to meet the needs of our older citizens is a requirement.
In recent years, there has been a conscious move towards designing service delivery systems around the needs and wishes of the older adult.
Programs at the local, state, and federal level are now designed with the client’s cultural and ethnic background in mind. In addition to translating the materials for various languages, these programs also use appropriate foods for nutrition classes and meals, terminology for familial terms, etc.
Person-centered planning and supportive-decision making approaches to delivering services focus on what the client wants and not necessarily what someone wants for them. In its simplest terms, these approaches focus on what the senior wants for his/her self and then allows them to make an informed decision. Then resources are devoted to making sure that decision is honored, even if the advocates don’t agree with it. This is very empowering for the senior client.
Efforts to promote alternatives to guardianship and advanced planning span across several disciplines. These programs work to allow older adults to retain, as much as practical, control over the decisions in their lives. Also, with advanced planning, an older adult can have their wishes honored when they are no longer able to express them.
One of the most promising areas of innovation is the coordination and collaboration of services to provide a more complete set of services to address the older adult’s needs. Coordinating healthcare services to make sure one doctor’s advice is not conflicting with another doctor’s, using inter-disciplinary case management and review teams, and even connecting most of the resources for a local community to make sure that the older adult receives all needed services.
There have been some great programs focused on keeping the older adult in their household for as long as they wish and are able to.
The PACE programs pull needed services together in one place so that an older adult can get all of these medical needs addressed. At these sites, an older adult will be able to see a general practitioner or dentist in a small clinic located at the PACE site. They offer adult day care, nutritious meals, and transportation to other appointments. This coordination makes the whole process less stressful and helps bring the services closer to the client. It allows a fairly independent older adult to remain in the community longer through better health care and assistance.
The Medicaid Waiver program allows an older adult who otherwise would have to go into a nursing home, stay in their home with care and support services coming to the home. Added with longstanding programs like Meals on Wheels and In-Home Chore Services, this program makes it possible an older adult to stay in their home when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to live alone in the community without them.
Many nonprofits and government agencies have embraced technology that will allow them to provide the service, such as application assistance, screening, counseling, can now be delivered at the older adult’s home or perhaps at a local senior center.
This is just a highlight of several services that are blazing the trail to better, more effective services for older adults. I am pleased to be involved in several other efforts that are currently underway in Michigan and nationally. I’ll keep you posted on new efforts as I find out about them. If you know about an innovative service, please post it in the comments or send me a note.