“A lot of elderly people are afraid to be alone, afraid to die alone.” So says Lynniece Scurry, Community Health Worker (CHW) for Health Care Access Now (HCAN). HCAN trains and dispatches CHWs to community members who benefit from connection to resources and education, resulting in better health outcomes.
The reward of care coordination for the aging population, according to Scurry, is the ability to support clients through times of trouble, advocate for them, and “show you care.” A lot of the support CHWs give revolves around conversation.
Struggling against barriers, feeling overwhelmed
Scurry has observed that many elderly people struggle against the process of aging. “It makes them feel helpless to have to depend on someone, and many become depressed. They can feel hopeless, trapped.”
Aging adults also can feel overwhelmed by the world outside their homes. Lack of mobility can make them feel vulnerable. “They can get worried about being attacked [outside the home] or the lack of respect that younger people show them,” says Scurry.
Financial insecurity, health care accessibility, and lack of understanding about a chronic disease—such as hypertension or diabetes—can compound the difficulties that come with the aging process, too.
“Many of my clients didn’t even know what a primary care doctor was” when Scurry first encountered them. She says this is especially true of the male segment of the population. “They seem to never want to go to the doctor. It’s a pride thing. When they do have a health issue, they go to the hospital.”
CHWs help their clients establish a medical home, which streamlines the appointment process and helps them build relationships with medical professionals. “When they work with a primary care doctor, their health starts to improve,” Scurry says.
Hearing and communicating
The key to connecting with a client struggling against the aging process is “meeting them where they are,” according to Scurry. “Don’t assume what they want or need, but establish open communication. You can find creative ways to help.”
For example, she began asking clients if they would like to meet with her inside their homes or outdoors. And some clients who had been displaying signs of depression started to feel better after having meetings with her outside.
She says that many elderly clients want to talk. “A lot of them have lost family members, and their children aren’t around,” so loneliness is a factor. “Just showing you care can make a difference.” Even when the aging adults she cared for were diagnosed with dementia, it was still important to have dedicated conversations.
Scurry has heard stories from clients that make care coordination satisfying. She relays the history of an elderly client who bucked expectations. “She was meant to stay at home and raise the children, but she was empowered to go back to school and became a doctor.
“Hearing the stories they share, seeing they feel comfortable talking to me about their issues, that they welcome me into their world: all of that makes the work rewarding.”