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2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Jennifer Wilson

Caitlin Burm
By Caitlin BurmApril 30, 2014

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the finalists of our annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. The finalists will be narrowed down to five winners to be awarded with a financial donation. Applicants were required to write a compelling essay about senior care innovation in preparing for America’s “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers.

Senior Care Innovation Finalist: Jennifer Wilson

Congratulations to Jennifer Wilson, 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read Jennifer’s essay below and comment with why you feel she deserves to be one of the five scholarship award recipients.

Jennifer’s Essay

The Administration on Aging estimates that by the year 2050 about a fourth of the American population will be age 65 and older. Additionally, from the present time until the year 2025 it is estimated that the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease will increase to 7.1 million. This is a 40% increase from the current number. As a social worker, it is important to find innovative ways to address this “Silver Tsunami” of aging baby boomers. I believe that the way to do this is through increased education and advocacy, as well as having innovative point of entry systems in place that are capable of guiding and assisting with the needs of seniors and their caregivers.  The Life Care Planning model used by elder law firms throughout the country is one such point of entry system that can be of assistance in this area and should be implemented in more locations. The dementia care medical village recently established in the Netherlands is another innovation that could be used to help our country care for the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s.

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As the number of seniors in the population rises there are an increasing number of people who need to be educated on issues such as the importance of legal documentation and how to navigate long-term care options. Oftentimes, seniors should and do seek out legal advice long before a crisis occurs, making elder law firms an important resource for seniors and their caregivers. Seniors should be urged to seek the assistance of a professional for the creation of a Last Will and Testament, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, and Living Will. It is imperative that people establish these documents early on while they are still in good health to avoid unnecessary complications in the future if they should become incompetent. Having a Last Will and Testament, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, and Living Will in place will help ensure that the elderly person’s wishes are being met and will also make certain situations easier for the family members who care for them. It is important to remember that as the elderly population increases, so does the number of family caregivers. The Life Care Planning model focuses on assisting both the elderly and their caregivers. This model takes on a more holistic approach than the traditional elder law firm. In addition to the aforementioned documents, Life Care Planning incorporates asset protection, public benefits qualifications, care coordination, nursing home advocacy and crisis intervention.

This can be especially helpful for families caring for an elderly person with a serious illness. As it is likely new and unknown territory for the family, it is significant for them to have access to someone knowledgeable in the field that they can trust to guide them in making the right choices for their loved one and to advocate for them when necessary. In the Life Care Planning model, this is the role of the “Elder Care Coordinator.” A social worker or a nurse normally fills this position. Tully & Winkelman, P.C., an Elder Law firm on Long Island describes the elder care coordinators role as, “helps clients and families assess and identify health and care problems and assists in solving them, assists families in identifying and arranging in-home help or other services, reviews medical issues and offers referrals to other geriatric specialists to provide appropriate care while conserving financial resources, coordinates with medical and health providers, provides support, guidance and advocacy during a crisis and offers counseling and support.” Each of the duties listed help alleviate stress for the family members and ensure that they elder person receives the proper care. Although Life Care Planning is currently being implemented in law firms throughout the country, there are a limited number of participating firms in many areas. On Long Island, for example, there are only two firms that offer this service. With the growing elderly population this model can be very valuable in decreasing chaos and increasing education and advocacy, and therefore should certainly be put in to practice in more locations.

In addition to education and advocacy, a new model of care for dementia patients may help address the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. Officially named Hogewey but nicknamed “Dementia Village,” this residency is a four acre complex in the Netherlands. Residents live in private rooms that are designed to bring a sense of familiarity, which is an important component in dealing with Alzheimer’s patients. The rooms have different “life-style options” such as religious, cultural, urban, homemaker, and upper-class and residents are placed in the rooms that most resemble their past life. Residents are encouraged to participate freely in activities including shopping, cycling and going to the theater. The high staff to resident ratio, the dementia training requirements for all staff, and special safety modifications throughout the complex make the living arrangement secure for individuals with dementia. There is also an on-call social worker that is called in to diffuse any situation when necessary. It is not uncommon for individuals with dementia to have behavioral issues often due to feelings of frustration brought on by confusion associated with the disease. Too often these behavioral issues are treated with anti-psychotic medications used to sedate and calm the individual down.

Tragically, these medications are sometimes even used as a “chemical restraint” and moreover can increase the risk of death for those with dementia. Hogewey’s use of an on-call social worker trained in behavioral management of dementia behaviors often helps diffuse the situation thus decreasing the need for medications.  The village even incorporates music and physical touch such as hand holding in to their regime. Both have proven to be effective in providing comfort to people with dementia. Although there is no empirical data as of yet, it has been observed that residents in the dementia village appear to be happier, live longer and take less medications. The concept of the dementia village may also be a positive alternative for families who do not want to place their loved one in a more institutionalized setting. With the rapidly growing amount of people with Alzheimer’s disease, having an alternative form of care like the dementia village could be a positive addition to American society.

My personal contribution to addressing the “Silver Tsunami” is through providing information. I firmly believe that knowledge is power and by providing people with the information they need, we are giving them the power to better navigate their lives and make informed decisions. It is important that information is accessible to the growing number of seniors as they enter this new chapter of their lives and the Internet is a great way to do this. Currently I am in charge of updating and maintaining a website called the Elder Care Resource Center. This website provides over 1,500 resources to the elderly and their families. I also write weekly articles for an elder law blog, which has afforded me with the opportunity to explore and research innovative ways to help seniors and their caregivers. Through these two outlets I am able to assist seniors and their families in finding the information and knowledge they need. I plan to continue to help educate people throughout my career as a social worker.

View and read all of the 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship finalists and congratulate them on making it closer to the scholarship prize.

Did Jennifer’s essay inspire you? Don’t forget to share your thoughts below.

Caitlin Burm
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Caitlin Burm
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