Researchers from Northwestern University have begun building a tool that will help older adults prepare for the unexpected events that can happen with age.

The tool presents questions related to scenarios based on common health crises and provides information about options for future care. It connects users to home-care services, rehabilitation facilities, senior groups, and other local support services.

Called Plan Your Lifespan and funded under the auspices of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the tool will generate a personalized report of the user’s expressed preferences. Users can save the report, print it out, or email copies of it to loved ones. Lead investigator Lee Lindquist, M.D., said it can serve as a checklist that families and friends can follow if something happens to the older person. The team is designing both electronic and paper versions of the tool.

“We want the web-based version to be easy to use and disseminate, while the paper version will enable older people who aren’t comfortable with computers to still benefit,” Lindquist said. The paper version will provide mailing addresses and phone numbers, as well as web addresses, for home-care and other support services.

To test the tool, the researchers will assign each of 600 community-dwelling older persons to one of two groups. One group will receive the tool and be asked to complete a survey after using it. The other group will watch a 30-minute video on a topic related to staying in their homes.

All participants will be interviewed again one month and three months afterward to determine whether the tool affected their willingness to plan for future health events, understanding of home-care services, and intention to discuss long-term care plans.

“We anticipate that the tool will successfully enable older adults to make informed choices about their home needs and remaining in their own homes,” Lindquist said. If the trial shows the tool to be effective, the researchers will begin disseminating it nationally.

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