Optimal Aging pulls elderly patient out of isolation

Priscilla, a widow, had lived alone for almost 30 years when she had a heart attack. Her sons stepped in to help but life had changed permanently for their mother, once an outgoing woman who loved to read and sketch, and so independent that she’d drive around sightseeing by herself.

Her sons began visiting their 82-year-old mother a couple of times a day to wake her up and make sure she took her medication and ate. Soon Priscilla needed to hunt for words to express herself, a sign of early dementia.

Her son Norman and his brother decided last year that their mother needed more support than they could provide with daily visits so, in July, Priscilla moved into an assisted living center. When she failed to thrive, the brothers turned to Optimal Aging for help.

“They found a companion and driver who could communicate with my mother in Tagalog (a national language of the Philippines), her first language,” says Norman. “That made a big difference and really changed things.”

Innovation for older adults who need help

Optimal Aging is part of Swedish and Providence’s goal to innovate in health care. The service, open to anyone, helps people with health constraints remain as independent as possible by providing crucial non-medical services.

“We were looking for innovative ways to better serve seniors,” says Melissa Taylor, director of the Optimal Aging program. “We know that people are happier, healthier and independent longer at home if they have the support they need.

“While not everyone can remain at home as they age, they can still retain some of their independence. We decided to help people wherever they are on that continuum with trusted, affordable and accessible services.”

How Optimal Aging works

Optimal Aging connects older adults to services for everyday living. Depending on the individual, the services could include personal care, companionship or help with errands, medications, chores, grocery shopping and cooking.

Optimal Aging also connects clients to yard care, home repair and cleaning services. Providence and Swedish carefully review and vet all of their contractors to make sure their clients are in good hands.

These services also are a lifeline for relatives like Norman and his brother, who both work and needed help caring for their mother as her needs grew.

A language barrier comes down

Norman says his mom was always sociable, but when she moved to assisted living, she withdrew into isolation. “It was a difficult adjustment for her,” he says. “People were in and out, checking her medicine, making sure she was eating, but she wasn’t connecting with the caregivers at the facility.”

Priscilla wouldn’t walk around the center, or attend the concerts and other activities that brought residents together. Her doctor and caseworker said to give it some time. Since their mother had begun having trouble with English but still spoke well in Tagalog, Norman and his brother thought a companion who could speak the language might be the solution.

Priscilla’s primary care doctor referred Norman and his brother to Optimal Aging, which found the companion she needed. “There’s not a huge learning curve for her companion, since she speaks Tagalog and knows the (Philippine) culture and food,” says Norman.

Hitting the books

Priscilla spends three afternoons a week with her companion, who helps Priscilla get out and about and drives her around, especially to bookstores so Priscilla can pursue her love of reading.

“It’s helped my mother, but also me and my brother,” says Norman. “It’s very stressful working and trying to take care of your parent. There just wasn’t enough time.”

Flexible services: a little or a lot

Taylor says that, like Priscilla, many clients find Optimal Aging through their doctors. “We’ve even had doctors refer their parents,” she says.

Optimal Aging is open to everyone, regardless of their health care provider. Services are available in one-hour increments, no contract is required and there’s a range of hourly rates to accommodate various budgets.

Sooner better than later

“Maybe a client just wants someone to come in and cook pork chops like his wife used to,” says Taylor. “We can arrange that. No one ever wants to say, ‘I can’t do the things I used to do.’ But when people use our service, they usually say, ‘I wish we’d done this sooner.’“

Optimal Aging is available in the greater Puget Sound area and will expand to Portland, Ore., this spring. You can learn more about Optimal Aging on the Swedish website. To talk with one of our advisors, call 844-600-9787.

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