Assessments offer clarity in uncertain times

Barbara’s parents, like many seniors in their 80s, are trying to keep from contracting COVID-19 by isolating at home.

To keep fed, they signed up for the governor’s Great Plates program, which delivers two restaurant-quality meals per day; other groceries are ordered online by their daughter.

In normal times, Barbara, who lives two hours away, would visit weekly. Now she uses the phone to connect.

Over the past several months, she has become increasingly worried about her mother’s health and well-being. On a recent phone call, her mother related a story about her arthritis flaring up.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said again and again. Barbara must have heard that phrase over 20 times in the span of a few minutes.

On another call, her mother was talking about putting her books and jewelry in the garage because she wouldn’t need them anymore.

Barbara, growing worried, asked her father if he had noticed any change in her mother’s behavior. He replied that she didn’t seem to be too interested in television anymore and she was napping a lot.

As seniors shelter in place, one increasing challenge is that a home environment is not set up to manage mental and physical decline, nor social isolation. Without a trained set of eyes, new illnesses may present themselves, conditions may worsen and depression may arise without acknowledgment.

Most seniors live independently in their homes. In normal times, friends, neighbors and family may visit and notice any decline in mental or physical health.

Also, before the pandemic, most seniors were seeing their doctors on a regular basis, and those specialists could identify any problems.

In Barbara’s case, she felt it was time for an expert set of eyes to review her parents’ situation.

She booked an appointment for them to receive what’s known as an in-home geriatric assessment.

According to the Institute on Aging, a geriatric assessment is a “multidisciplinary exercise that examines mental, physical, emotional and psychological health, as well as assesses functionality, living conditions, socioeconomic environment, social circles, family involvement and everything else that goes into determining quality of life.”

In simpler terms, it’s a detailed look at what a senior does every day, their abilities and what families and loved ones need to do to provide maximum comfort and, if possible, independence.

At Senior Concerns, we have received a number of calls from family members of people who used to attend our Adult Day Program who are sensing the deterioration of their senior loved one. Each of them is asking if there a resource that could come into the home to conduct an evaluation.

Based on this growing need and acknowledging that the COVID-19 precautions for seniors will last well into 2021, Senior Concerns has begun an in-home geriatric assessment program staffed by a senior advocate and licensed social worker.

Many years ago, with my parents’ permission, I contacted a geriatric care manager for an assessment when my father’s Parkinson’s disease was worsening; it was the best $350 I ever spent.

Among the care manager’s suggestions: getting my dad a free hospital bed through Medicare, getting a ramp installed to make it easier for him to use his walker, revising their advance directive since the one they had completed was no longer legal in their state and suggesting a move longer term to be near a daughter so my mom had help caring for my dad.

All of it was invaluable advice, and we enacted each recommendation to the benefit of both my mother and father. It gave them three more years in their beloved Cape Cod home before they needed to move.

If you know someone who might benefit from an in-home geriatric assessment, call (805) 497-0189 or visit seniorconcerns.org/programs/in-home-geriatric assessment.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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