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It takes a village, and the right health plan, to age independently

As our population grays, Minnesota needs to find new ways to support the health and well-being of older people seeking to remain in their own homes.

Roxanne Jenkins
Most older adults today share a common goal — to age in place. Older adults want to remain part of the communities they call home and continue to enjoy their hobbies, their neighbors and their lives in general. As our population grays, Minnesota needs to find new ways to support the health and well-being of older people seeking to remain in their own homes.

Fortunately, Medicare Advantage health plans have stepped up and are collaborating with local groups committed to helping older adults live independently. The organization where I work, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS), is among the many Medicare Advantage community partners.

LSS Senior Companion Services combines a diverse array of service options. Well-trained volunteers, themselves older adults, assist with a wide array of health-related activities: transportation to doctor appointments and other preventive care appointments, such as inoculations and check-ups, medication management and treatment regimen support. LSS Community Companions can also assist in navigating the health care system, working with health plans’ coordinators to make sure those members receive all the care they need.

LSS and Medicare Advantage health plans are finding, however, that health depends on far more than medical interventions. A variety of studies have confirmed the key role of various “social determinants of health,” the factors beyond disease prognosis or lab results that affect health outcomes, longevity and quality of life.

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As a result, we’re striving to fulfill the broader needs of our older adult community. This includes helping with grocery shopping and preparation of healthy meals. Our volunteers also help connect people to services that help repair home safety issues, such as a lack of handrails in a shower, that can lead to injury — sometimes through charitable organizations willing to donate such “handyman” services for free or low rates of cost.

The importance of social interaction

We also place a high priority on social interaction. Unfortunately, many older adults spend day after day alone, a situation proven to accelerate cognitive decline and increase mortality risk. Simple acts like having a conversation, sharing a game of cards or going out to lunch contribute to better overall health for older adults.

It’s refreshing to see how Medicare Advantage health plans assess and support the whole patient. The best part is, this kind of intervention is working. LSS has documented a decline in emergency room visits among the seniors we assist through our Senior Companion services. By promoting wellness, safety and timely care, services like the Senior Companion Service are also helping to control system-wide health care costs because emergency care and late-stage medical interventions are usually far costlier than the preventive measures we promote. By the same token, nursing homes are usually many times more expensive than living at home. There is great human and financial return from investing in a few hours per week of personal contact and assistance to make such independence possible, one person at a time.

LSS has extensive reach throughout Minnesota. We match qualified volunteer companions with nearby older adults. If you or a loved one can benefit from this service, visit this website to find the right contact number for your area or a link to LSS’ Senior Companions or Neighbor to Neighbor services.

Medicare Advantage health plans should be commended for looking beyond the health care industry to develop innovative means to improve the lives of older adult neighbors. LSS is proud to participate in these efforts and we look forward to helping our neighbors enjoy the golden years in the way they deserve.

Roxanne Jenkins is associate vice president of services for older adults at Lutheran Social Services.


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