Lisa Huening is the founder of The Shifting Path. As a public speaker on caregiving, her mission is driven by the passion to help others and through her own personal experience of the devastation that can occur when a family member is in crisis. Lisa is a member of the board of directors of the Saratoga Senior Center and the Senior Adult Legal Assistance organization, where she advocates for caregivers of the elderly through caregiver and elder education. She holds a master’s degree in Human Services focusing on families in later life as well as master’s degree in Education. She is a member of the American Society on Aging, The National Council on Aging, the National Organization of Human Services, and the National Alliance for Caregiving. The following is a Q&A for caregivers faced with the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents along with the responsibilities of their own adult lives.
Tell me the essence of The Shifting Path?
We are the Caregiver’s Caregiver, helping people who are caring for their aging parent or spouse. We are different than most care management companies because we focus on the whole family, coaching them through the emotional turmoil when trying to maintain a healthy balance in their life. Our unique coaching program enables them to feel organized, with the right tools and solutions to make empowered choices, as well as feeling supported along the way as issues arise. We do this coaching with families from all over the country.
In addition, when a family member is no longer able to live in their home, my company helps Bay Area families to find the right senior housing community that is right for them. We offer this service at NO Charge to the family. We do an assessment of their needs and then take them on tour of the locations that best fit those needs narrowing down the over 500 choices alone in the South Bay.
As the baby boomers get older, what are the key things their adult children need to start planning for, to prepare for their aging parents eldercare needs?
The earlier families can prepare together for their needs as they age the easier caregiving will be. There are many details in making care decisions but the key areas to prepare for are the daily needs, knowledge of medical issues, having a support system, legal considerations, and financial support for that care.
What can people expect from a discovery session with you?
In a discovery session with me, people find that they can get out of the stress and overwhelm, they recognize that we can guide them to be able to reclaim the balance in their life and not just be in a reactive state. During this session I learn about their current caregiving situation, what are the issues, what is the medical situation, and what they and their parent’s currently have in place for care. From there we talk about how I can be of service to them and if we are a good fit for each other. This initial coaching session helps them to begin to restore that needed balance in their life while providing great care for their family member. It is a good time to find out if we feel that we have a mutual fit to work together.
How does the 3-month caregiver support program work to aid the client who has become responsible for their elderly parent?
The 3- Month Caregiver support program is for those who are seeking expert guidance and advice, at every step whether they are located here or in another state, this program is set up to support them on an ongoing basis.
This program helps them to become clear about issues that are causing unnecessary stress and confusion, organized to regain a sense of control and order, and to receive a customized plan to move forward. They will be equipped and empowered to ask the most important questions of doctors, professional in-home care companies, and other service providers to know their loved one is receiving the best possible care. They will feel supported along the way as issues arise, while being provided with personalized solutions.
Specifically in the program I conduct a 90-minute detailed review of their unique situation, coupled with a comprehensive assessment. We give them a plan of care, which includes recommended resources to put into action right away. They receive my Compassionate Caregiver Organizer to keep important details in one place including; their support system, insurance, financial and legal documents, key resources to support and inform them about care options, and checklists for must-have documents, and home safety.
After the assessment, plan of care, and organizer is complete, we give them give them a total of six, 30-minute phone consultations - 2 per month, with notes provided. This is private follow up time with me, is devoted to any issue they need support with including; ongoing decision making based on changing needs, help to resolve sensitive family issues, and ideas to ensure they stay whole and happy.
During these 3-months they receive addition ongoing Email support as much as needed.
There was a recent case in the Bay Area of a nursing home that was abandoned by owners of the facility and the County Sheriff had to get involved to notify the families and transport residents to the hospital or other facilities. Why did this happen and how could it have been avoided for the families?
In reading the news articles regarding this facility there were multiple factors that caused this terrible situation. First of all, according to news reports, that Valley Spring’s license was suspended by the Department of Social Services due to the awful conditions that were found by the inspectors. However, there was a lack of assistance by the state department to relocate residents who were still living there. It wasn’t until the staff left and called for medical help that the sheriff’s department intervened. According to the same news report, there is currently an investigation regarding the handling of this case.
All senior housing locations are private pay in California with a bit of help from medicare, long-term care insurance, and VA Aid and Attendance. The cost of senior housing is very expensive and families are generally not prepared for that expense. They haven’t investigated it early on, usually have not saved for it because they didn’t realize the costs, and have not purchased long-term care insurance to help cover the costs. They then find themselves unprepared for an impending difficult situation. This particular senior housing company was extremely low cost, and in no way could have provided appropriate care for its residents.
One family member whose parent was located at Valley Springs mentioned in an article that she had a bad feeling about the skilled nursing facility when they first looked at it. She noticed flies, a poor smell, no structured day for the residents, and only two caregivers on staff the day they were there. The inspectors noted even worse conditions behind the scenes of the operations. In the South Bay there are over 500 senior housing options. They are very different from each other in their medical support, care, food, social activities, and cost. We have thoroughly researched each of these facilities and worked closely with many to identify the best of the best. Having a trusted knowledgeable resource, like our company, help you to choose which senior community best fits all of your loved ones needs is invaluable. We know the ins and outs of the senior communities. Our service is free to seniors and their families.
This can be a very overwhelming process but the best way to avoid finding your loved one in this situation is to do a thorough check of all of the locations you are considering and ask the right questions or to have support from someone who knows them to help you.
What does a Caregiver VIP Day involve?
The Caregiver VIP Day is where I care for the family caregiver for the day by working together to create a plan of care for their loved one that supports their needs as much it supports the person in the family who is caring for them. It puts them in a place of empowerment to stay on top of the challenges, and giving them the balance in their life they need.
Those who participate in this program become Clear about underlying issues that are causing unnecessary stress and confusion, focused and confident about moving forward, organized a customized plan to move forward, equipped and empowered to ask the most important questions of doctors, professional in-home care companies, and other service providers, supported with personalized solutions that fit their specific situation, and cared for and nurtured by someone who has been there, and knows just how difficult it is to be a caregiver to a loved one.
During this time together I break the day into parts with a Full assessment and evaluation of their caregiving situation, then a healthy, relaxing lunch, with the beautiful ocean surroundings. In the afternoon we co-create an action care plan for them and their family. Together, we calendar and organize resources into a binder they take with them. They will also receive coaching on how best to navigate sensitive family communication, and stress. Late afternoon I send them off to enjoy a wonderful 50-minute massage at a nearby spa. After the day is over they will receive a 45- minute follow-up call within 4 weeks to check-in on how things are going.
How do you stay on top of developments in senior services to ensure that your programs are up to date?
In addition to running my company, I serve as the board president of the Saratoga Senior Center (a not for profit 501C3) and am a board member of SALA the Senior Adult Legal Services another non-profit organization which serves seniors in Santa Clara County for free legal services. I have made many connections with community leaders such as El Camino Hospital, senior living communities, other non-profits, in home care companies, local City and ministerial leaders.
In addition, I take ongoing courses for care managers and am part of several organizations such as the American Society on Aging, and Case Management Society of America, to stay on top of the changing environment for seniors and their families.
Which are the best resources, in your opinion, for caregivers to cope with the stress of caregiving?
In terms of stress, caregivers can find many support groups available throughout their communities. Most are run by senior centers and hospitals and meet in person. Family caregivers will find a variety of support groups that are chronic disease specific, family member specific, or more general. It can be difficult for a family member to feel like they can take the physical time to drive to a caregiver support group and there are other alternatives. I host my online Compassionate Caregiver Forum on Facebook. It is a closed group (you must ask for permission to join) so that the public on Facebook cannot see what is posted. The group continues to grow and beside the support I give, members of the group support each other. As a caregiver coach I work with the primary caregiver to support them in their own health and well-being. Caregiver burnout is very real and very often it is the caregiver whose health suffers more than the care receiver due to stress and overwhelm.
Are the needs of families who are immigrants and whose native language is not English, different from traditional American families?
Yes, they are, often adult children of aging parents will bring their parents to this country so that they can care for them. However, those adult children are usually still working themselves. Their parent can experience isolation when they are not able to interact with others due to a language barrier, or the ability to drive to senior centers for activity and socialization. In Santa Clara County the issue of transportation for seniors has become of great concern. Senior Centers, and churches are finding that they are not able to accommodate transportation on their own due to the cost. There are some programs such as Outreach and private transportation services available but the need is great.
Do you have any plans for new programs and services in 2014?
Plans for new programs and services in 2014 include an intimate senior symposium where families can meet with a political representative regarding senior needs in our county and experts on caregiving, senior housing and financial decision making regarding these areas. They will be able to ask questions and get answers on the spot. In addition I will have an online giveaway event at the end of May, which will host experts in the field of senior care giving away complimentary products and services. Later in the year I will launch my book titled “What I Wish I Knew.” I currently have an audio series with this title, in which I interview family members who are or have been caregivers to an aging family member. I ask them about the one thing they wish they knew upon embarking on this journey as a family caregiver. The book will go into depth about a variety of topics on caregiving for an aging loved one. At the end of the year I am planning an online training for family caregivers.