No one should face aging and illness alone. Too often, older adults find themselves without an ally or advocate when they are most vulnerable. Illness and infirmity can dramatically diminish older adults. It is not uncommon for an ill or hospitalized older adult to appear more confused, frail and incapable than they actually are.
This is why an increasing number of families call on elder care advocates for assistance. Signe Gleeson, RNC, CCM, MS, is the owner of ElderCare Solutions, which provides geriatric care management services to older adults and their families in the Chicago area. "We support older and disabled adults and the people who care about them," says Gleeson. "Our role as elder care advocates is to help older adults achieve their goals and implement their choices when they can't do it themselves."
Gleeson has extensive background in geriatrics and geriatric psychiatry. She has cared for older adults through her nursing career and has worked with the elderly and their families in hospitals, nursing homes and in community settings.
All of the professionals at ElderCare Solutions are registered nurses who have at least a bachelor's degree and experience working with the elderly and their families in a variety of settings, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, medical and psychiatric hospitals and in the community. They are skilled in recognizing and addressing the physical and cognitive changes that can occur as individuals age.
"Informed advocacy plays a critical role in ensuring the needs, desires and values of a disabled or older adult are recognized, respected and protected. It can be easy and expedient to make assumptions or assign a label to an older adult," notes Gleeson.
Elder care advocates seek information about the individual and anticipate their present and future needs. "When an individual is voiceless and/or seen with a limited perspective, the elder care advocate gives a voice and a full sense of the person on their behalf when short- and long-term decisions about their care are being made," Gleeson adds.
Elder care advocates work closely with older adults and their families and the medical professionals who care for them. "We help to take some of the emotion out of the decisions for care, treatment and medical intervention. Part of our role is to consider the result of intervention and how it will affect the individual's functioning," says Gleeson.
Most people have a hard time questioning doctors and challenging their decisions. For older adults, this is particularly difficult. Like many advocates for the elderly, Gleeson see situations where a doctor may make a recommendation for a medical procedure without fully understanding the patient's circumstances. She says, "One of the strongest contributions we make as patient advocates, beyond our clinical skills, is to ask questions and paint a picture for the physician or family member of who this person is as an individual, how they live their life and what they value."
Elder care advocates are often called in when an older adult is resisting assistance or intervention. They are also asked to assist when family members are in conflict over difficult care issues. Gleeson says these conflicts can arise between the elder parent and his or her children or between siblings.
"Our role is to be objective, provide expert assessments of the older adult's individual needs and make specific recommendations for their care. As the advocate for the older adult, we can provide a point of view from which other family members can make decisions," concludes Gleeson.
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