The journey of aging gracefully extends beyond the consultation rooms of primary physicians and specialists. Indeed, it often requires a harmonious orchestra of professionals to ensure older adults maintain their safety and independence at home. With foresight, this transition can also prepare for the possibility that they may need additional support in the future. In the near term, however, the labyrinth of elder care can seem overwhelming.
In order to assist, we’ve put together the following descriptions of the professionals and institutions you might find yourself interacting with along your loved one’s journey. To be clear, any individual may not need all of these professionals or take advantage of these institutions. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you are looking for a referral to any of the below categories of individuals in South Florida.
Primary Care Physician: Perhaps the professional with which people are most familiar, an aging individual’s primary care physician is often the first to recognize changes in a patient’s physical or mental health and recommend avenues for addressing these changes. They may refer a patient to a specialist, such as a cardiologist, a neurologist or a geriatrician, or they may believe that the individual is generally healthy but could benefit from some additional support at home.
Geriatric Care Manager: Generally a social worker or nurse by profession, a geriatric care manager is trained to assess an older person’s functioning, need for level of care, social network, finances, safety, memory, psychological and emotional states of mind. They typically act as a liaison to the family, helping both the senior get an appropriate level of care while keeping the family informed. Following an initial assessment, a geriatric care manager will help to put in place an agreed upon plan of care. They will visit the older adult regularly and communicate with the son or daughter. This may include attending doctors’ visits and being an advocate for the elderly individual. Geriatric care managers are particularly helpful when adult children live in a different state than their aging parents and therefore aren’t available as regularly as they would like to be.
Case Managers: Case managers are generally representatives of an entity providing payment for elder care. This can be Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, the Veterans’ Administration or any other institution that is responsible for ensuring that its constituents receive appropriate care. Often, they maintain lists of preferred providers and partners with whom they’ve had good experiences and who they recommend their clients work with.
Home Health Aide or Certified Nursing Assistant: HHAs and CNAs are the most common types of home health care professionals. Both HHAs and CNAs can help with personal care tasks such as dressing, toileting, feeding, transferring and bathing. Home care aides can also assist with other activities of daily living such as grocery shopping, laundry and companionship, while nursing assistants generally provide a slightly higher level of medical care, such as monitoring vital signs and oxygen levels, administering physician-prescribed medications and changing bandages. HHAs and CNAs can provide care for just a few hours a day or live in a client’s home. A well-matched home aide develops a special bond with their client and can quickly become like a member of the family.
Home Health Agency or Nurse Registry: Both homecare agencies and licensed nurse registries match their clients with home health aides or nursing assistants. A Medicare-certified home health agency can also provide nursing, physical or occupational therapy or other services covered by Medicare. These services typically require authorization from a prescribing physician in order to be processed through Medicare, and typically last for only 30-60 days. A Medicare-certified homecare agency is also able to supply and install home medical equipment as necessary.
Financial Advisor or Insurance Agent: A certified financial planner can help you understand what level of care your loved one may be able to afford, as well as help uncover additional sources of funding for their care. Advice from a financial advisor may be counter-intuitive, such as recognizing that beginning low-acuity homecare earlier can push off or even prevent the need for more expensive care later on. An insurance agent who is familiar with long-term care policies can help you understand what’s covered under your loved one’s policy and how to initiate benefits.
Elder Law Attorney: An elder law attorney generally assists with four primary items: assigning a Power of Attorney to a trusted person; assigning a Medical Surrogate or Proxy– Advance Directives; creating a Trust of some sort to protect assets; and structuring wills, taxes and the like in the most favorable manner. In Florida specifically, an elder law attorney can make sure that any of these documents originally prepared in another state conform to Florida law.
Guardian: Upon request, a court may assign a guardian to provide oversight of financial affairs and other relevant care directives when an individual is deemed incapable of making proper decisions for themselves. The responsibilities of the guardian include issues involving contracts, application and maintenance of government benefits, management of property, residency determination, consent to medical and mental health treatment and decisions regarding a ward’s social environment. Guardianship can be voluntary or issued on an emergency temporary basis.
Adult Day Centers: These activity and community centers provide stimulating activities for aging adults with varying degrees of cognitive or physical impairment (including none at all!). They often include as part of their fees HHA or CAN care during their hours of programming.
Independent Living Facility: An independent living facility or community typically offers its residents minimal daily assistance, but may provide access to group dining, medical care, entertainment, workout facilities or other amenities. Hospitality services such as housekeeping or laundry may be available, as well.
Assisted Living Facility: Assisted living facilities provide residents support with daily activities such as light housekeeping, transportation and meals. Many have options for personal care such as assistance with dressing or bathing, though these may be shared services available only at certain times based on staffing levels. Assisted living facilities are sometimes referred to as “nursing homes”.
Skilled Nursing Facility: A skilled nursing facility is an inpatient rehabilitation and medical treatment center. Often synonymous with “rehab center”, they are oriented around helping patients regain maximal strength and capabilities before returning to other living environments. Sometimes, a patient can return home faster with an appropriate home health plan that includes the same therapies and treatments provided in a skilled nursing facility.
Navigating care for an aging parent or loved one can be challenging, and trying to understand the right professionals and institutions to interact with at each point in the journey can be overwhelming. Our advice is to familiarize yourself with the options that are out there, if only to rule out certain ones as inappropriate or undesired. Doing so will put your family in a better situation to leverage the services and conveniences available to your loved one. Boca Home Care Services has been helping families navigate senior care needs in Palm Beach and Broward Counties for over 25 years. Contact our team today to see how we can help yours.