Clara* had recently met with an LSSND therapist to talk about her grief over not being able to see her grandchildren since the COVID-19 outbreak. She was feeling isolated and deeply depressed.
After visiting with Clara to problem-solve how she could better keep in touch with her grandkids, the therapist helped the older woman download several coloring games onto her Kindle device. Since then, Clara spends time every day interactively coloring pictures with her grandkids.
This simple activity, shared via pixels vs. wax crayons, has somehow erased the many miles that separate them and restored Clara's precious sense of connection with her grandchildren. “Her mood has just been through the roof,” says Sara Stallman, vice president of Clinical Services at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.
The belief that technology can be“the next best thing to being there,” is a central driver behind the newly expanded Aging Life Coordination service at LSSND. It's simply one way in which Aging Life Coordination is changing to be more accessible and affordable to a broader range of clients, Stallman says.
The iPad service lends the tablets, at no charge, to seniors across the state so they can connect with trained Aging Life Coordinators to troubleshoot challenges, plan strategies or monitor progress. It is bringing support, independence and better quality of life to all North Dakota seniors, even if they live in rural areas that are hundreds of miles from the nearest Aging Life Coordinator.
The program also includes funds to help pay for clients’ data plans, and will offer training, materials and tech support to help older adults navigate the technology learning curve. “For the first time ever, technology and distance are no longer a barrier to North Dakota seniors because of this program,” Stallman says.
Early help, when and where they need it
Formed five years ago, the original ALC was traditionally called in once its older clients had hit a serious health obstacle.
The newly revamped Aging Life Coordination aims to help people much sooner in their aging journey. ALC’s team of coordinators will work as skills coaches, helping older adults live independently and function comfortably before they have a serious health emergency.
This means Aging Life Coordinators can be recruited early on to assist with a much broader array of services, ranging from help with grocery-shopping, bill-paying or home organization to medical advocacy, mediation between client and family members, and help transitioning client from one level of care to another.
“We want to expand this concept of what mental health wellness for seniors is in our state." Sara Stallman, vice president of Clinical Services, LSSND.
Another big difference is that more of these early-intervention services will be covered by Medicaid, Stallman says, so that adults no longer need to “hit rock bottom” to qualify for help from an Aging Life Coordinator. A sliding fee scale is also available, which means seniors with a fixed or very limited income can receive the services for a very minimal or no fee.
“When you first start to wonder if everything is OK, if mom might need a little more help and support, we can proactively offer a service for people to feel well and healthy in their homes,” Stallman says. “So it’s just sort of shifting that concept of not waiting for a vulnerable-adult report to be made until they get help.”
To learn more about our expanded ALC program, contact Carmel Froemke at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (218)284-6242.
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
By Tammy Swift