Being a friend, an ally and an advocate for your client means much more than being just a purveyor of products and services. It turns you into an invaluable resource, someone who has earned your clients’ trust, respect and loyalty. Once you’ve gone the extra mile, you’ll experience the satisfaction of a job well-done and discover it feels good too.
Think of every meeting with clients as an opportunity to detect a problem or identify a need. If you stop, look and listen, you’ll find plenty of clues.
Do your clients look well? Do they appear healthy and energetic? Are they clean and well-dressed? Are there family issues? Do their pets look neglected? Are their papers filed and well-organized?
Here Are 6 Great Ways You Can Provide Assistance to Seniors:
1. Take Them to a Health Fair and Document Their Medical Information.
With health costs spiraling, getting and staying healthy is a must for today’s seniors. While many have health plans that provide for annual check-ups, local Health Fairs are a low-cost, low-stress option for those who have minimal insurance or hate going to the doctor.
Community Health Fairs are often sponsored by hospitals, clinics and non-profit organizations. They offer a series of tests for free or at reduced rates and provide information on healthy lifestyles.
Encourage your clients to attend and offer to accompany them. Before you go, try gathering a family medical history. This will be useful not only for the Health Fair but also for family members.
When you take a medical history, you may discover that your clients don’t have good medical records or documented information about their physicians, medications or medical wishes.
This would be a good time to create a document with their doctors’ names and contact information along with a list of prescriptions, pharmacies and instructions. Printing it in large type and having it laminated would be invaluable daily and even more valuable in an emergency.
There are other, less intrusive ways, to make a difference in your clients’ health. One option is to invite them to participate in charitable walks or on strolls around town. Stop by and present them with a set of hand weights and demonstrate how to use them. A gift of even a simple day-by-day pill case will ensure their medication is taken on the right day and in the correct dosage.
2. Ask About a Will, Living Will, Advance Directives, Powers of Attorney and Filing Systems.
Death and dying are incredibly difficult topics. No one wants to think they may become incapacitated, much less die. That’s why so many people put off dealing with these matters. In fact, only 41 percent of Americans have wills. Not dealing with these issues, however, is bound to create problems down the line, not only for your clients but also for their families.
So what can you do? There are sensitive ways to approach these subjects. The best approach may be to inquire as part of a more general discussion. For example, when you’re gathering information for a medical history, inquire if they have a Living Will or other Advance Directives, such as a Do Not Resuscitate Order or Organ Donor Card.
From there, ask if they have other important documents such a Will, Living Will or Powers of Attorney. If they have these documents, the next step is to make sure that appropriate family members and doctors have access to them in case of emergency. If they haven’t gotten around to arranging for these documents, provide them with the names of professionals you trust and make the introductions.
Financial records, such as banking institutions, brokerage accounts, insurance policies, mortgages, titles and registrations and other forms of identification, such as passports and Social Security cards, need to be easy-to-find too. Check to make sure they are organized in clearly marked folders. Family members should have a list of the files and know where they are kept.
Getting involved in end-of-life issues may seem like a lot of work and create some discomfort. However, once you explain why these matters are necessary and simplify the process, you’ll be surprised by how grateful clients are you initiated the conversation.
3. Arrange for Them to Obtain a Home Energy Audit or Energy Bill Assistance.
Healthcare costs aren’t the only things that are skyrocketing. High energy costs are making it increasingly difficult for seniors to pay their utility bills.
And it’s not only their bank accounts that are suffering. Their health is too. In order to keep their bills low, seniors turn their thermostats down in the cold winter months and boost them up in the summer. Every year there are tragic reports of seniors dying from exposure.
This doesn’t have to happen. There are government programs that provide financial assistance. Unfortunately, seniors are often unaware of them or unwilling to ask for help.
If you visit a client and notice that their home feels especially cold or unusually warm, ask if they are having problems with their furnace or paying their utility bills. If the problem appears to be financial, put them in touch with the utility company. The utility can put them on budget billing to spread the cost out over a year. Depending on income, your client might also qualify for financial assistance from LEAP, the government’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. Every state offers this program and applications can be obtained on-line, by mail or at social service organizations.
If the problem is energy-related, see if your local utility will conduct a free home energy audit. The audit will show where the house is losing or gaining heat and provide practical tips on how to improve the home’s energy efficiency. There are simple things you can do as well. Take a look around the house. You may spot some obvious problems such as lack of weather stripping. Installing weather stripping is easy and inexpensive. All you need is a few tools and minimal technical skills.
Whatever you do, don’t wait for June or November to roll around. The earlier you start, the sooner your clients can start saving on their energy bills.
4. Sign Them Up for a “Driver Safety Education” Class
Seniors hate to give up the right to drive, even when their eyesight is failing and reflexes are slowing down. Driving equals freedom, and losing that freedom means relying on others to do errands and get out to social events.
State transportation offices, auto clubs and senior organizations offer Driver Safety Education courses. These classes are designed to improve driving skills by teaching defensive driving. Teachers accompany drivers, test their skills, and make an independent evaluation of how safe they are behind the wheel. Their evaluation and recommendations may resonate far better with a senior than the opinion of a family member or friend.
You can do your part as well. Check the tire pressure on vehicles and inflate them if necessary. Make sure cars have been recently serviced. If they need servicing, obtain discount coupons and offer to take cars in for them.
If you are concerned about your client’s driving abilities, offer to take them to the doctor, run errands or pick up guests at the airport.
When it comes time to renew their driver’s license, be supportive. Seniors are anxious about passing the vision, written and driving tests. Review the materials with them so they are comfortable with the questions and accompany them to the Drivers License Bureau.
Knowing how to drive, when to drive and when to quit can save not only the lives of seniors but the lives of loved ones and other motorists.
5. Help with a Home Safety Audit
It’s a well-known fact that more accidents occur at home than anywhere else. When it comes to seniors, the numbers are even higher. Statistics show that falls are the cause of 70 percent of accidental deaths to people over the age of 75 and 40 percent of all nursing home admissions. Sadly, some twenty-five percent of seniors who fall and suffer hip fractures die within a year.
These statistics are frightening but it’s not just the falls themselves that impact seniors. It’s the fear of falling itself. When a friend or family member falls and is injured or put into a nursing home, seniors are afraid it will happen to them too. Before long, they give up their daily walks and social activities, making them even less mobile and more isolated.
One way to prevent falls is to arrange for a professional home safety audit. The audit will identify areas of concern and offer recommendations.
Take a look around the house the next time you visit. Check to see that rugs are wrinkle-free and edges are firmly tacked in place. If there are area rugs, make sure there are no-slip pads beneath them.
Inspect the bathrooms. Do the tubs and showers have no slip-mats, decals and safety bars? Are hand-held electrical appliances located too close to the sinks or tubs? What about lighting around the staircases and porches and in the bathrooms and kitchen? Are the bulbs the correct wattage for the fixtures? If the lighting is poor, help locate a handyman who can take care of the job. There are non-profit home repair organizations in many cities that charge seniors low fees for home improvements.
Some home safety solutions are remarkably easy. Pick up clutter. Install new batteries in smoke detectors. Hire neighborhood kids to shovel the walks. Think about safety measures in your own home and you’ll come up with dozens of ways you can help. Just remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
6. Provide Pet or Vet Assistance
Studies show that people who have pets live longer and healthier lives. Having a Fido or Fluffy to care for keeps seniors active and emotionally fulfilled.
Pets are family too. If you’re pet-friendly pop for a toy, or tag along during walks. Make sure pets are being properly fed and groomed. Offer to pet sit, take pets to the groomer or in for annual vaccinations.
No pet. No problem. Seniors can still enjoy the company of a pet. Numerous non-profit organizations train pets and take them around to nursing homes, senior housing and recreation centers.
There are also inexpensive ways to obtain a pet. Non-profit organizations such as the Dumb Friends League, the Max Fund and city and county agencies rescue pets and charge low-fees for adoption.