The People in Your Aging Neighborhood

As we journey through the various stages of life, our needs, concerns, and health considerations evolve. Aging can bring about unique challenges and require specialized care and support. However, most don’t know about these professionals until we need to interact with them.

In the spirit of Sesame Street’s “The People in Your Neighborhood” segment, we want to introduce you to six essential specialists you may encounter as you age. Each can play a crucial role in promoting well-being, independence, and quality of life.

1. Geriatrician. A geriatrician is a doctor who specializes in the unique medical needs of older adults. They are trained to diagnose, treat, and manage complex health conditions, including dementia, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases. As part of an interdisciplinary team, geriatricians help develop personalized care plans to reduce any challenges with their patient’s day-to-day physical and mental functioning. Michael Steinman, a geriatrician and faculty at the University of California San Francisco Division of Geriatrics, explains that not everyone needs a geriatrician. “A 65-year-old with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes may benefit, but an 80-year-old who walks five miles a day and is only on one or two medications doesn’t need one.”

2. Elder Law Attorney. As individuals age, legal considerations become increasingly important. Elder law encompasses a wide range of legal issues which directly impact older adults: estate planning, long-term care arrangements, guardianship, and even elder abuse prevention. Most elder law attorneys specialize in one area, like drafting wills or safeguarding assets. However, you don’t need to be on Medicare to need these services. Marvin S.C. Dang, past chair of the American Bar Association’s Senior Lawyers Division, has pointed out, “Some of the areas of practice that have traditionally been considered a part of elder law actually impact people regardless of age.”

3. Geriatric Care Manager. Regardless of age, navigating the healthcare system can be daunting; for older adults who may have multiple chronic conditions, it can become overwhelming. Usually a licensed nurse or social worker, they work with older adults and their families to identify needs through evaluations, develop plans for coordinated healthcare, and find agencies that assist from the community. As they guide and advocate, geriatric care managers can offer emotional support, empower clients in decision-making, and promote autonomy through the aging process. Their services are particularly useful if the main caregiver lives far away.

4. Physical Therapist. Most people have heard of a physical therapist (PT) and many have visited them for rehabilitation after an injury or surgery. PTs specialize in improving mobility and muscle strength, managing pain, and enhancing overall physical function—all essential for preserving independence and quality of life as we age. They may use exercise, manual therapy, or assistive devices. PTs can also help with neurological conditions like strokes, spinal cord injuries, and Parkinson’s disease. They can also assist in fall prevention by assessing an older adult’s gait and improve balance.

5. Medicare Navigator. A recent survey found an uptick in Medicare and Medicaid third-party marketing has led to an increase in complaints with reports of confusing and misleading sales tactics. Selecting the correct plan is important for both medical and financial wellbeing in the older years. Through local volunteers, the federally funded State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides unbiased one-on-one counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and their families so they can make informed decisions about enrollment, coverage choices, and cost-saving opportunities. SHIP also helps with considering coverage changes, out-of-pocket costs, eligibility requirements, and rights under Medicare.

6. Hospice Care Provider. Towards the end of life, individuals and families may benefit from the compassionate, specialized care provided by hospice professionals. Dr. Carly Zapata, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Palliative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explains that hospice “is really focused on caring for people—and their caregivers or loved ones—to help them have the best quality of life possible for the time that they have left.” Hospice teams typically consist of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and trained volunteers collaboratively addressing physical, emotional, and spiritual needs at the end of life. Hospice providers offer pain management and symptom control as well as bereavement services for the surviving loved ones.

With a diverse team of professionals, older adults can access support, resources, and expertise to age with confidence, dignity, and resilience. Recognizing these people ensures that whether seeking medical care, legal guidance, or rehabilitative services, you know who to turn to at every stage of life.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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