How to Talk with Clients in Troubled Times

Whatever your views on the news, outrage rules the Internet and airways. It’s hard to avoid, and it’s hard not to feel weighed down by the latest dark headlines about raging wildfires, flooded communities, mass shootings, trade wars, nuclear arms races, the opium epidemic, political name-calling and dysfunctional government.

It’s also hard not to let those worries intrude on your work with clients. When helping individuals who are already vulnerable, the last thing you want to do is let your own insecurities and fears about the world undermine your ability to help them feel safe.

So what do you say when a client who is a Holocaust survivor brings up the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting? Or a client who bootstrapped her way from immigrant poverty to a comfortable life criticizes the migrant caravan at the Texas border?

Especially if clients express viewpoints that challenge your personal values, how do you remain present and supportive without crossing boundaries that compromise your professional relationship?

Here are a few ways to take care of yourself that will help you better care for your clients in troubling times:

  • Set limits on your consumption of news and social media. Facebook and other platforms are engineered to be addictive, monetizing controversy to increase clicks and shares. Even reliable news sources benefit from headlines that tap strong emotions. While it’s important to stay informed when so much is at stake, try to limit how often you check your Twitter feed and online news services during the day. Avoid overdosing on pundit analysis before bedtime. Be selective in your news sources and learn to recognize click bait.
  • Cultivate a calm, measured manner when speaking with clients about current events. We are mirrors for those who depend on us. If you can remain composed when listening to your client’s concerns about the latest news, he will be more likely to calm down, too.
  • Don’t talk politics unless your client brings it up. Even if you have just learned some news that is causing you distress, your client may well have no idea what’s going on. Call a friend, family member or co-worker to decompress, as needed at an appropriate time, but don’t sound off to your client. That’s not what you’re there for.
  • If your client expresses political views that you find offensive, agree to disagree. This is tough, and it comes with some caveats. Should those views intentionally or unintentionally target your race, religion, gender orientation or other personal qualities, it’s fair to explain how that makes you feel—as a teachable moment, not an accusation. In general, however, it’s best to set personal political differences aside and to focus on the care-related issues at hand.
  • Strive for empathy and remember to take a “patience pill.” So much of what divides us today comes down to fear of losing what we hold most dear. Compassionate listening can be a powerful antidote. Patience, of course, is crucial to all that we do as Aging Life Care Professionals®. And when you’re done for the day, be sure to make time for that nice soak in the tub or a good comedy on your favorite streaming service to unwind and remember the good things in life.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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Image: Kevin Grieve

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How to Increase the Odds of Aging in Place

No one dreams of living in a nursing home someday. The ideal is to live out our lives in the comfort of our own homes. Luck is certainly a factor in realizing the goal of “aging in place” —health risks increase with each decade, and chronic disease, dementia and fragility may make it too dangerous to remain at home forever.

But planning ahead to age in place as long as possible can increase the odds of a life well-lived at home. There are many factors to consider. A realistic financial plan is a must, even if all the variables for future medical needs cannot be anticipated. So is a safe living arrangement that can accommodate an older adult’s increasing physical limitations.

Here are some of the factors to take into consideration when evaluating your loved one’s ability to age in place—or your own:

  • How easy is it for your loved one to move around her home without risk of falls or other mishaps?
  • What transportation resources are available if and when he has to stop driving?
  • How much work is required to keep her home clean and functional? What support is available to help with household chores as tasks become more difficult?
  • How well can he manage his health and personal care needs, including doctor’s visits, medications, fitness routines and good nutrition?
  • Is she at risk of becoming socially isolated?

Get a Professional Assessment to Help You Plan

As you sort through these questions, it can help to get a professional assessment of your loved one’s strengths and limitations by a physical and/or occupational therapist. If you go this route and your loved one is on Medicare, remember to get a referral through his or her primary care physician so that the evaluation is covered.

Physical therapists can help to determine whether unresolved, chronic pain that limits your loved one’s mobility and strength can be eased with appropriate exercise and the right equipment. (No, it’s NOT a good idea for Mom to use Dad’s old cane when it’s the wrong size for her, just to save money.)

Occupational therapists, in turn, specialize in assessing safety of living spaces and can recommend accommodations that enable your loved one to remain independent when it comes to basic daily activities, such as bathing, eating and maintaining personal hygiene. They can also spot risky areas in the home, such as scatter rugs and rickety stairs, that should be fixed or modified in order to prevent falls.

Research Financing Options for Home Modifications

Many creative and functional adaptations can be made to homes; if such modifications are necessary, from installing a stair lift to reconfiguring a floor plan, be sure to hire contractors who specialize in this type of work. They will be up-to-date on the latest thinking and codes to ensure that your loved one’s home is safe. The Massachusetts Home Modification Loan Program provides interest-free loans up to $50,000 to support the costs of such adaptations, with repayment not required until the home is sold or the property’s title or deed is transferred. Nationwide, a variety of programs are also available, ranging from veteran’s benefits to free labor.

While circumstances will certainly change as your loved one grows older, an Aging Life Care Manager™ can work with you and your loved one to assess her or his needs, whether aging in place is a realistic option, and how best to make that dream a reality for as long as possible.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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Image Credit: Damir Bosnjak

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Hospice & Palliative Care: What You Should Know

Deb co-wrote an article in a USA Today supplement about hospice and palliative care, published in September, Getting Holistic, Client-Centered Help When Caring for Aging Adults.  Here’s a link to the supplement, which also includes articles about end-of-life care decisions, how to talk about death with your loved one, honoring a life well-lived, and dispelling myths about hospices and palliative care.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

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Car Talk: How to Have a Caring Conversation About Safe Driving with Your Aging Parent

For teens it’s a given: drive safely or lose the car keys. But if your parents’ driving skills are slipping due to age or infirmity, the conversation can get pretty dicey.

Driving is a mark of personal independence, a way to get around when you want, where you want. Losing the ability to drive can be a serious blow to self-esteem, not to mention a major obstacle to managing on your own. No wonder that any challenge to a parent’s driving abilities can spark serious family conflicts.

But the greater risk, when a parent shows sigs of no longer being in full control behind the wheel, is safety—not only for your parent, but also for any passengers and others on the road.

Taking away the keys is certainly a last resort. In an ideal world, your parent would recognize that he or she really needs to give up the car without any prompting. Between those two poles are a range of options, depending on your aging elder’s specific issues. Chances of a peaceful resolution that works for all will increase if you can broach the issues of safety and “retiring” from driving before there’s a crisis.

Watch for Warning Signs

Seventy-eight is now the average life expectancy for Americans. Even for healthy adults, the ’70s are a decade of increasing physical changes that can affect driving—weakened eyesight, difficulties with night vision, hearing loss, longer response times, declining physical coordination or range of motion, to name a few. Cognitive acuity may begin to slide, evidenced by shortened attention and memory loss.

Among the warning signs that your loved one may be approaching the point when driving has become a safety issue:

  • Unexplained dents or scrapes on the car
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Riding the brake
  • Difficulty turning around when backing up
  • Trouble navigating turns
  • Inability to anticipate a dangerous situation on the road
  • Lateness to events when the individual has always been punctual
  • Switch to new medications that affect alertness and response times
  • Increased irritability or decreased confidence when driving

How to Broach Safe Driving Concerns

So, how to open up the subject without starting World War III? Your best bet is to speak and act with empathy:

  • Share your concerns without criticizing. Explain what you’ve witnessed that has raised concerns for your loved one’s safety and the safety of others. Avoid judging and lecturing. Speak as you would like to be spoken to when it’s your turn to face your driving limitations.
  • Encourage your loved one’s efforts to modify driving. Support any attempt to cut back driving at night or limit long-distance driving. Offer to help with transportation to evening events if your location and schedule allows, or arrange ride alternatives with reliable friends or transportation services. Provide assistance in planning long-distance trips to family events.
  • Accompany your loved one on public transit. Go with Mom or Dad on the bus or subway to get to appointments and help them learn the system. This will also enable you to assess how safe these alternatives actually are for your aging parent.
  • Research ride sharing alternatives. An abundance of options exist that can provide timely, responsive transportation. Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, specialized senior group transit, and personal ride services just for seniors are among the alternatives. Find out what’s available and affordable, and accompany your loved one to find the right fit and discover new ways to get around.
  • Help your loved one to analyze cost savings. Maintaining a car is expensive—even if the car is paid for, you have insurance, taxes, gasoline and repairs. It’s possible that taxis or ride sharing services are cheaper over the course of a year than keeping the car. Saving money on transportation can be a compelling reason for your loved one to quit driving.

But what if your parent refuses to consider giving up the keys, despite growing evidence of serious risks? Be compassionate but honest about safety:

  • In case of a minor accident, be candid about what could happen next time. Avoid guilt-tripping (“You could have killed someone!”) but be realistic. Your loved one may not even have been at fault, but his inability to drive defensively or respond in time could cause a serious accident in the future. Speak from the heart about your concerns for your aging parent’s safety and the safety of others.
  • Set boundaries about who can be a passenger. If your loved one’s driving has become too risky, you can calmly but honestly tell her that you no longer feel safe riding with her, or will no longer allow your children to ride with her. It’s a powerful and fair way to get the message across. Safety trumps hurt feelings.
  • Arrange a consult with your loved one’s physician. Shift the conversation to your loved one’s health. It’s best to speak to the physician in advance in order to determine whether he or she is willing to make an unbiased recommendation. You can also request that the physician order an independent driving evaluation.

Sooner than later, self-driving cars may eliminate the need for this difficult conversation. In the meantime, it’s best to discuss the possibilities of giving up the car long before there is a real and present danger. Once you’ve agreed on a plan, put it in writing so all will remember their commitments. An Aging Life Care Professional® can help you to navigate these complex conversations and work out a safe, viable driving solution for everyone involved.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

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Memory Cafés Abound in Massachusetts

You’ll find them in coffee houses, museums or other community organizations. Memory cafés are safe, welcoming spaces for people living with forgetfulness or other cognitive challenges, as well as their families and friends. Some memory cafés invite guest artists, others focus on educational programs, and still others just provide a friendly social space for chatting and enjoying each other’s company.

This one-minute video provides a quick overview (if you cannot see the embedded video, click here to view on YouTube):

Click here to view the video in Spanish.

To find a memory café in your part of Massachusetts, click here for a directory from Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

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