Debbie Sylvester is a doctor of nursing practice and nurse practitioner. As director of geriatrics at Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), she helps members live well at home as they age. Her guiding principle is that aging is different for everyone.
“Living well at home” has different meanings. CCA members may be in a house or apartment, living alone or with family or friends. Their goal could be to stay in their space or move to one that’s better for their needs.
“Aging is highly individual in terms of people’s needs, wants, and desires,” Debbie said. “People have different stories and experiences. The key is finding out what matters most to them.”
Debbie encourages CCA members and caregivers to engage in their own care. This means asking questions about things like medication and medical procedures.
It can also be helpful to identify goals for the future: Where do you want to live long-term? What hobbies and activities do you want to do as you age? It’s important to speak up about needs, wishes, and challenges.
Debbie’s grandparents inspired her to pursue a career to care for older adults. As they aged, they had a positive experience with home healthcare. She chose to work for CCA over 11 years ago because of its reputation. CCA has a long history of helping people live well in their own homes, communities, and other care settings.
Meeting our basic needs is necessary to achieve better health. Essentials required by everyone include:
CCA works on removing barriers around food and housing. Helping members secure these resources and others is at the core of the CCA model of care. CCA also works with members on safety as their mobility and brain function change. Stability in these areas makes it easier to focus on health needs.
To age at home, Debbie advises preparation. Making changes ahead of time is a good way to manage needs. This can help prevent emergencies. Waiting until health problems emerge can make them harder to solve.
“Emotional support can come from friends and family, neighbors, churches, and other community organizations. Having a solid foundation to help combat isolation is important,” Debbie said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CCA began offering virtual visits and wellness checks to ensure members continued to receive the medical, behavioral, and emotional support they needed.
Technology can help keep us connected. Programs like the Affordable Connectivity Program help people access the internet, so they can stay in touch with their providers, families, and communities. Learn more about the Affordable Connectivity Program by visiting https://www.fcc.gov/acp.
CCA launched a buddy program in 2020 to help members feel less lonely. The program partners CCA Senior Care Options members with CCA employees. Members received regular phone calls from their CCA buddy.
Myths about the aging process can impact healthy aging. For example, dementia is a disease, not a normal part of aging. It’s important to discuss changes in how you are feeling with your providers.
“Don’t accept feeling unwell, in pain, or tired as a normal part of aging. It’s not,” Debbie advises.
Aging doesn’t bring poor health, with no room for improvement.
“You can improve your health at any time and any age. It’s never too late to start regular exercise, or quit drinking or smoking,” she said. Even something simple, like aiming for a short walk every day, helps.
Caregivers are important when it comes to caring for the whole person. They can provide essential services and emotional support. But whether they are professionals, family members, or friends, caregivers need breaks. “Caregiver burnout” is common. A caregiver with burnout has become overwhelmed and is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted from the stress and burden of caregiving.
“Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs. It’s important to recognize that your caregivers are working hard,” Debbie said.
To help both members and their caregivers, CCA has a team of professionals that provide care and services at home. The team includes nurses, community health workers, and behavioral health clinicians. Check out some of our resources for caregivers here.
CCA also has a large network of providers that can help. These include visiting nurse and rehab therapy agencies, home health, personal care, home delivered meals, and heavy chore services.
As a CCA member, you can contact Member Services to discuss how we can help you with aging well at home: