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Updated: June 6, 2024

From early talks about aging, to hospice care: highlights of the Mainebiz Health Care Forum

Speakers at the Mainebiz Health Care Forum 2024. Photo / Soubanh Phanthay Dr. Heidi Wierman of MaineHealth Maine Medical Center, center, addresses the Mainebiz Health Care Forum on Wednesday in Freeport. She is shown here with Daryl J. Cady, left, of the Hospice of Southern Maine, and Suzanne Moreshead of Northern Light Home Care and Hospice.
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From early discussions with aging family members to navigating end-of-life hospice care, the Mainebiz Health Care Forum on Wednesday in Freeport covered a wide variety of topics related to older adult health. A panel of experts also shared practical advice for employers.

Nearly 100 people attended the discussion, moderated by Megan Walton, CEO of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging and president of the Maine Association of Agencies on Aging.

“We’re all living much longer,” Walton said in her opening remarks, adding that “the decades of wisdom that we all hold is a great opportunity.” However, she also cited the needs for affordable health care and social connection as challenges to be addressed.

Fall prevention

Dr. Heidi Wierman of MaineHealth Maine Medical Center noted the danger of falling for older adults, who are more likely to be hurt by such a mishap than younger people. To prevent injury, she suggested that people stay active as they age through strength and balance training and simply by walking. 

“We need to start that as we’re in our middle ages, and continue that going forward,” said Wierman, director of Maine Med’s geriatric division and medical director for healthy aging at MaineHealth. 

On a wider scale, Wierman recommends having a safe place in every community where people can go and walk when it’s not safe to be outdoors, such as in winter.

She also said that having a positive attitude about aging “gets you about seven more years of quality life.”

Transportation challenges  

As the state's population grows and its younger generation moves to cities, the older generation — especially in rural areas — is often left alone and with little transportation, according to Suzanne Moreshead of Northern Light Home Care and Hospice.

Northern Light Home Care and Hospice has been offering mobile mammograms and dental services where they aren't easily available.

“This allows us to put eyes on these patients to see if they have food or need food delivery, if they are clean and make sure people have the necessary things to live a healthier lifestyle,” Moreshead said. 

Guide to facilities 

Deciding between an assisted living facility or nursing home depends entirely on the needs of the individual, said Daryl J. Cady, CEO of the Hospice of Southern Maine.

If an older person needs minimal skilled nursing care but perhaps also occupational or physical therapy and help with daily living, medication management and some social interaction, then assisted living may be the better option. Nursing facilities, in contrast, offer 24-hour care when medical needs are greater.

“But really it’s a discussion with a family, it’s a discussion with the physician,” Cady said.

To be admitted to hospice care, an individual needs to have a terminal diagnosis and a prognosis of six months or less, she explained. She also noted that hospice can be provided wherever someone lives, whether at home or in a facility. 

Paying for health care 

Maine has over 300,000 people eligible for Medicare. While navigating the system may seem daunting or expansive to some, Theresa Goodman of UnitedHealthcare offered the reassurance that resources are available.

She also said that Medicare annual wellness visits are important, in part so the patient and provider can map out health goals for the future. The visits also offer an opportunity to catch up what has been going on in a patient's life.

“We want people to age properly. You should encourage and ask older people if they have scheduled their annual visit,” said Northern Light's Moreshead.

Employer support

Because many older workers are interested in a part-time schedule, Walton urged employers to make adaptations in order to meet those needs.

She also lamented the fact that while maternity leave gets a lot of attention from employers, there aren’t as many policies around caregiving.

Businesses need to be proactive on that front so that people can stay on as employees while caring for a parent or a spouse, Walton suggested.

“Retention, retention, retention is super-important,” she said.

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