How to Help an Aging Loved One Manage Multiple Chronic Conditions

By Melissa Burton, Counselor, LMSW

Are you caring for a parent with chronic conditions and feel they are getting lost in the healthcare shuffle? There is a reason for your frustration.

So Many Specialties

Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

With all the advancements in our medical technology and knowledge, doctors have narrowed their scope of practice to more focused specialties. This is laser focus is great for someone who has one complicated medical condition that needs specialized treatment; however, for many older adults dealing with multiple chronic conditions these healthcare providers become silos that isolate the patient and complicate their overall plan of care. While well meaning doctors do their best to provide quality care, these silos of treatment often lead to barriers in care. Healthcare silos have been in place for decades and navigating in and around them can be daunting.

Imagine if your mother has multiple conditions with multiple specialists:
1. Pulmonologist is treating your mom’s COPD and
2. Retinal Specialist is treating her Macular Degeneration they may not be communicating with each other. Add to that,
3. Geriatric Psychiatrist deals with the Mild Cognitive Impairment and
4. Podiatrist handles the Plantar Fasciitis.

From the specialist’s standpoint these issues may not need to overlap with consultation. The doctor will rely on self-reporting to address any concerns from the senior, and the Pharmacist will make sure there are no medication contraindications… easy peasy, right? Not so fast! What if the COPD leaves the patient short of breath so she doesn’t like to get out of the house for long appointments, and the Macular Degeneration impedes her ability to drive. Isolation leads to depression that further impacts the Mild Cognitive Impairment and the foot pain is causing the patient to be unsteady which is leading to falls. And wait, there’s more. Here comes Spring and a common cold turns into something ugly overnight. Is it Bronchitis, strep, pneumonia, the flu, or just plain allergies?

Who will treat this issue? Which issue is the highest priority? Does the primary care doctor understand the whole picture? Is your Primary Care Physician (PCP) the point person to coordinate all of this care? Is the PCP just another silo?

Health care needs of your loved one can get complicated quickly.

So Many Treatment Locations

As if multiple specialties weren’t complicated enough, the healthcare system has divided care across multiple locations:

Photo by Sebastian Grochowicz on Unsplash

● Hospitals (where every department is practically its own entity)
● Home-Health Care
● Skilled Nursing Facilities
● Outpatient Centers
● Assisted Living Facilities
● Home

Even if you can get all the specialists in their offices to cohesively work together addressing the issues discussed above, what happens when your mother develops another condition with another specialist? Or she goes to another setting with a whole new set of providers?

One Solution

How can the patient, and oftentimes the caregivers responsible for managing their care, find the most holistic approach that will connect all aspects of their needs?

An Aging Life Care Manager (formerly called a geriatric care manager) can be the conduit that connects all of these healthcare dots. By having a care management team on your side they can help each doctor see the whole picture. A care manager will understand your needs from a perspective of you. Each nuance, characteristic, preference, environmental situation, relationship, lifestyle and symptom get distilled into a focus of care that addresses the whole person. From on-call nurses assisting you with questions after business hours to communicating with the doctors and medication management it helps to have a professional that specializes in you guiding you through these healthcare silos. According to a study published in the Journal of Aging Life Care in 2017, the services provided by an Aging Life Care Professional of most valuable to the clients is monitoring and advocating for medical needs.

“Your services have been wonderful! They have helped us all to make some recent important decisions. We, the children, would have no idea how to find the best and correct information on these items without [LifeLinks].”
— Sharon Shaub, RN (client’s daughter)

If you are having trouble connecting the dots with your healthcare silos reach out to LifeLinks to see how we can help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *