Helping Seniors Get Ahead of the Curve

By November 28, 2017Professional Tips
Getting to Know Your Aging Client Needs and Wishes

Getting to know your elderly client as a whole person can help you stay ahead of the curve and provide better services. How? Ask these 7 questions.


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?

Getting to Know Your Aging Client Needs and Wishes

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.

Understanding the Whole Person Unlocks Powerful Tools

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.

7 Questions to Ask Your Aging Clients for Better Business

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:

  1. What’s happening in your life that has led you to come to us and consider taking action at this particular time?
  2. When you thought about coming in today, was there anything that made you feel nervous or excited about getting together?
  3. Tell me about your family: your kids, grandchildren, spouse, siblings and other significant people in your life.
  4. How do you spend your time? What are the things you enjoy doing? What don’t you enjoy?
  5. What are the ideals, principles, activities and objectives that are most important to you? Can you share 3 to 5 of these?
  6. What worries you? Is there anything that keeps you up at night?
  7. How do you envision your life as you’d like it to be in 5 years? 10? Beyond?

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.

Feel free to join the conversation, through comments, social media or subscribe to my newsletter.

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Steven Barlam

Author Steven Barlam

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.

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Kate Crane says:

    Steve, this is very helpful! I am going to give a talk to a group of women lawyers after the first of the year and I am wondering if you would give me permission to distribute a copy of it to the attendees? I am a friend /colleague of Sylvia’s from the South Bay estate planning council.

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