Have you prepared a thorough, seemingly fail-proof plan for an elderly client only to learn – just when it’s needed the most – that in fact, it’s not really what the client wanted?
For example, a client’s daughter calls to say her dad has been falling often and winding up in the emergency room. It no longer seems safe for him to live alone at home. You calmly walk her through the plan you set up years ago, reassuring her the money to move her dad to a senior living community is available. But the daughter snaps, “Dad will never leave his house!”
With the all the time and hard work you devote to helping your clients prepare for the future, and with all the tools you have up your sleeve, how are the plans you made suddenly undesirable?
In my 30-plus years of work with families and their aging parents, I’ve seen the elderly and their families at odds with the best-laid plans. And I’ve gained a valuable insight into why:
Focusing solely on elderly clients’ physical or logistical needs does not take into account the bigger picture. That is, the whole person.
The “whole person” approach describes all dimensions of an individual’s personality: her values, her preferences, her tastes and desired outcomes. This might also mean understanding the root of the fears and dreams that drive these. Maybe you have a client who lacked the resources to go to college and deeply regrets it. Today, she prefers to live solely on her investments’ meager earnings without touching the capital so she can leave a legacy that will pay for her grandchildrens’ education.
Working from an understanding of the “whole person” allows for a wide-lens, long-view approach that accounts for a variety of potential scenarios in a way that honors their wishes. Without such an understanding, you may be making decisions based on assumptions — which can really miss the mark. You may find yourself intervening one incident at a time, focusing solely on specific issues or logistics without accounting for the bigger picture. This may put out the fire and provide temporary relief, but is bound to leave clients and their families more vulnerable in the long run.
Taking a “whole person” approach helps you and your clients get ahead of this curve by looking beyond what happens next — to what happens after that.
Here at LivHOME, my team and I take the “whole person” approach when working with our elderly clients. Below are the questions we ask – and recommend you ask – during the onboarding process to start getting to know the whole person:
The answers will help you shift from a pure fact- and tools- based approach to one that’s truly customized, far more nuanced – and sustainable over time. However, they will inevitably bring complexities into the planning equation that you did not expect. That’s perfectly normal: each whole person, each whole family and each whole life is complex.
The good news is, you don’t have to have all the answers. No one person can. Understanding, supporting and caring for the individuals in our aging population – now the largest generation in America – takes a team. Instead, you can use the answers to assemble the right team of Aging Life Care Professionals™ such as geriatric care managers. Together, you can help your elderly clients and their families get ahead of the curve, devising a solid plan for the future that satisfies needs and wishes alike.
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Steven Barlam, MSW, LCSW, CMC is the Chief Professional Officer and Co-Founder of LivHOME. Since 1985, Steve has worked exclusively in the field of geriatrics, working directly with clients and their families, and developing innovative service delivery models. He has served as President of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. Steve is a regular lecturer at local universities and national conferences on topics relating to care management, technology, and patient/client care.