New tool evaluates care options for seniors

Web site educates and empowers caregivers

Those who work with senior citizens have a new tool to help them advise their clients on appropriate care or living decisions.

CarePlanner is a web site and on-line tool to help people make decisions about care for the elderly or disabled, based on their situation and preferences. The purpose of the tool is to educate and empower caregivers to make appropriate decisions, including keeping seniors at home if possible, says Meghan Coulehan, MPH, research project director for CarePlanner at Clinical Tools Inc., a health care management company that developed CarePlanner through a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The CarePlanner asks users a series of questions about the senior’s age, gender, current living environment, and state of residence. It includes questions about financial issues, health status, treatments, ability to carry out activities of daily living, personal preferences (such as doing their own cooking or sharing a bedroom), and the availability and health of any caregivers.

Based on the selections, the CarePlanner creates advice reports analyzing the senior’s potential for successfully living in each of seven living and care options: hospice, home care, retirement community, continuing care community, personal care home, assisted-living facility, and nursing home.

The tool includes links to other agencies and organizations that can help in implementing the plan. "It doesn’t tell people what the best option might be. It gives them recommendations for successful placement," Coulehan says.

The CarePlanner aims to educate seniors, their families, and caregivers about community-based and home-based health care options, with an emphasis on options that provide care at home, she adds. "Most people don’t know about all the resources that are available. If Mom falls and breaks her hip, the family thinks the only option is to put her in a nursing home," Coulehan says.

The tool is designed for seniors, physically disabled people with a chronic illness who need supportive services, and their caregivers, case managers, social workers, and families. The care planning process tends to be overwhelming, Coulehan comments. "A lot of times, people become caregivers because of a sudden event. They know nothing about caregiving options or making arrangements, and it’s dumped on them all at once," she adds.

For more information, see the CarePlanner web site at www.careplanner.org.