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Navigating the Unknown

My mom was a voracious reader for all of her 94-year life. She was known for never leaving home without a book in her purse and for always reading the last page first. When asked why she would do this, she would say it was because she wanted to make sure that she was going to like the ending. For her, the journey to a satisfactory ending was the interesting part. 

For almost 20 years, I have been working in the aging world and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every day. Not just because of the wonderful people I get to interact with, or the never-boring challenges, but for the same reason that Mom read the last page of a book first. I like helping people enjoy their journey through life to a satisfying conclusion.

Recently, I wrote of the four columns of life: mind, body, spirit, community – and how each one has to be strong for a life well lived. We all know that there are times when one or more of those columns will need support and it is about those times that I am probably most often asked. The questions are usually things like: What does this change mean for Mom? What are my options? Who can help? What is the path ahead?

These questions can frighten all of us. We want to make the best decisions but this territory is usually new for us, uncertain and - unfortunately - complicated.  Like most “industries,” the aging world is vast and full of jargon and insider secrets. What makes it even harder is that this world is facing its own awkward point of change as it morphs to meet the challenges of a rapidly aging society. There are a lot of options but the first crucial step is having solid information. If life needs four columns, then having the necessary information is what levels the ground for those columns to stand upon.

Fortunately, there are folks who specialize in helping at these moments…people who can look at the situation with you, provide an honest assessment and lay out the options and even a roadmap for the future. In the aging world, they are often called Care Navigators and Aging Life Care Specialists. Both provide information but at different levels of involvement.

A Care Navigator is a “subject matter expert” who can answer questions about services available in the community. Their knowledge is broad and their involvement can range from a single phone call to years of answering questions as they arise. You want to make sure that your Care Navigator is unbiased. For example, at SCI, our Navigators provide not only information but linkage to services, whether those services are provided by SCI or another entity in the community. This is critical because you want the best answers for you, not the organization.

Aging Life Care Specialists are certified experts who can be more intensive partners. They often begin with a visit in the home where they assess the current situation and together with everyone involved, develop a plan that fits the specific needs. They can provide a formal written plan of action and can even act as a guardian, which makes this an especially valuable service for someone with no family support or whose family lives far away. Because of the experience and trust required, it is important that the Aging Life Care Specialist be certified and bonded.

Regardless of how little or how much information is needed, it is the “unknown” that makes these times difficult. Using an expert such as a Care Navigator or Aging Life Care Specialist can help shore up the columns and make the next chapter more enjoyable. After all, like my mom, we want to make sure we’re going to enjoy our entire book.

For more information about how to find a Care Navigator or Aging Life Care Specialist in your community, call Senior Citizens Inc. at 912-236-0363 or toll-free at 866-579-2116 or visit