Who is an Advocate?
An advocateA person who understands and supports someone else’s words, values, and wishes. is a respected person who understands an elder’s words, values, and wishes. An advocate inspires trust and confidence, and can communicate with elders, family, community, and medical professionals. An advocate is a translator between an elder’s traditional language and English, and of an elder’s desires for their medical and health insuranceA type of insurance that pays for some or all of your medical expenses.
How to Advocate for Elders
The most important thing is to respect the elder’s independence and honor their wishes to the best of your ability. If an elder does not see the need for an advocateA person who understands and supports someone else’s words, values, and wishes., don’t force your help on the elder, but explain how you can assist them navigating the healthcare system.
Your relationship to the elder as an advocate will develop over time, but don’t expect to be involved in all their decisions. Most elders don’t want the whole community to know about their health, so respect the elder’s privacy.
- Don’t make decisions or share information without consulting with the elder.
- Present the elder with all their choices and options.
- Don’t try to trick them into making decisions.
- Honor the elder and their decisions, even when you do not agree with their choices. Elders who can make decisions need to ask for services themselves.
Be mindful that if you are acting as an elder’s advocate, you might face resistance and criticism from friends, family, or community members who aren’t happy with the elder’s decisions. Explain clearly and calmly that the elder is in charge and you are carrying out and respecting their wishes.
Make sure your elder friend or family member gets the medical care they need and that they have a primary care providerA health professional who practices general medicine and helps to coordinate all the different kinds of care you may need. who can provide information about how to stay healthy, prevent diseases, diagnose and treat illness and injuries, and refer them to other specialists as needed.
Advance Directives and End-Of-Life Care
It’s a good idea for elders to have an advance directive on file, which is a legal arrangement that establishes their preferences regarding medical care. This may include designating someone as their medical power of attorney, meaning that that person will make medical decisions for them when they are no longer able to.
When a person is near the end of life, they may wish to have hospice care, which is a family-focused type of care provided by a team of healthcare providers who are trained in helping patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The goal of hospiceA special way of caring for people who are seriously or terminally ill. Hospice care involves a team-oriented approach that addresses the medical, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient. Hospice care prioritizes comfort and quality of life by reducing pain and suffering. Hospice also provides support to the patient’s family or caregiver. care is to help a person have the best quality of life possible during their last days.
Hospice care is a specific benefit covered under Medicare Part A when available, however hospice care may not be available in a very rural area. To learn more about hospice care in New Mexico and Texas, contact the Texas & New Mexico Hospice Organization, or call them at (800) 580-9270.
Visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization for guides and resources about caregiving and end-of-life care.
The National Institute on Aging provides information about end-of-life care, what to do when someone dies, and managing grief. You can reach them at (800) 222-2225.
It’s important to have conversations with the elder’s family and friends about these issues. While it can be hard, and some may not feel it is appropriate to talk about such things, there are nurses and social workers who can help with these conversations.
The New Mexico Aging and Long-term Services Department provides a Planning Tool you can download for further information on how to navigate end-of-life discussions.
AARP also has a Planning Guide to download.
Health Warning Signs
It is very important for elders to have family and friends who care about their wellbeing. Some changes that might indicate a health problem include memory loss, trouble taking care of daily tasks such as cooking, bathing, dressing, household duties, weight loss or lack of appetite, low spirits or lack of interest in being social, and difficulty moving around.
If you have concerns, talk to the elder, make sure health problems are diagnosed quickly, and that they make regular visits to a primary care providerA health professional who practices general medicine and helps to coordinate all the different kinds of care you may need.. If you feel their health issues are not being addressed, talk with them going with them to their medical appointments.
Even if elders are getting professional care in a nursing home or from a home caregiver, you may see signs that they are not being taken care of. Elder abuse signs can include changes in personality or mood, unexplained signs of injury, such as bruises or scratches, lack of hygiene and/or unsanitary living conditions, or unattended medical needs.
If you are concerned about elder care in a nursing home or assisted livingA facility that provides care for seniors who want to stay independent but who need some help with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, eating, and moving around. facility in New Mexico, contact the Aging and Long-Term Services Department, and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program statewide (LTCOP) at (866) 451-2901.
If you suspect that your elder friend or family member is being abused, you can contact the police or call New Mexico adult protective services at (866) 654-3219 or (505) 476-4912.
In-Home and Community-Based Services
Elders can get healthy and nutritious meals delivered to their home or served in a group setting at the local senior center. To find a center near you, call the New Mexico Aging and Long-term Services Department Area Agency on Aging at (800) 432-2080.
Elders may need other kinds of long-term careServices for people who cannot do basic activities of daily living, like dressing or bathing. This includes medical and non-medical care. These services can be provided at home or in assisted living or nursing homes. Medicare and most health insurance plans do not pay for long-term care., meaning support with basic personal tasks of everyday life or “activities of daily living.” Unfortunately, the Indian Health Service (IHS) does not have dedicated funding to provide long-term care. But elders can apply for health insurance that will pay for long-term care. See our pages on Long-Term Care and Help Getting Health Insurance to learn more.
It’s good to get assistance when considering long-term care. Elders and their families can get help reviewing their options from a Resource Options Coordinator at the New Mexico Aging and Disability Resource Center or call (800) 432-2080 or TTY (505) 476-4937.
You can contact the New Mexico Aging and Disability Resource Center at (800) 432-2080 or TTY (505) 476-4937 for information and assistance, support groups, education and training, respite careA kind of short-term relief for caregivers. For example, in-home assistance or adult day care., adult day care, in-home care, homemaker services, nutrition counseling, chore services, repair maintenance and renovation, transportation, home-delivered meals, senior companion services, legal information and assistance, care coordinationThe organization of a person’s health care across several health care providers. The point of care coordination is to ensure that a person gets the right care at the right time. and case management, MedicaidA joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. home and community-based services, and prescription drug assistance.
AARP also has a website devoted to articles and information for caregivers.
For resources for caregivers of elders with specific health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementiaA chronic disorder caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning., see the Family Caregiver Alliance website or call (800) 445- 8106.