As we age, it can become harder to navigate unforeseen, life-altering events on our own. At Windward Life Care®, our Aging Life Care™ Managers are trained to help clients maintain their independence despite adversities. The following story demonstrates one of the many ways our Care Managers create personalized plans of care that emphasize the client’s goals and maximize freedom and quality of life — even in times of crisis. 

Aging Life Care Manager Story: Camille and Heather

Camille is a 63-year-old-woman with special needs who had been living in a partially flooded home for over a year without alerting anyone to her situation. The flood had destroyed the interior of her house and nearly all of her personal belongings. She needed extensive assistance moving into a safe space and getting back on her feet after this disaster had left her vulnerable and without direction.

After learning of the state in which Camille had been living, her trustee contacted Windward for help. Heather Arsenault, an Associate Care Manager at Windward, instantly relocated Camille into an extended-stay hotel with kitchen amenities and laundry service. Over the next several months, Heather worked diligently with Camille to put together a long-term plan.

Heather found a new apartment that would meet Camille’s needs while granting her the autonomy she longed for. “I was given a limited budget to furnish the one-bedroom apartment including the bedroom and living room furniture, kitchen appliances, and television,” said Heather. Heather shaped the apartment into a comfortable home.

Heather coordinated the lease, gas/electric and cable and transferred Camille’s mail to the new apartment. After it was discovered that Camille did not have health insurance, Heather researched her eligibility for government benefits and soon Camille was granted Medi-Cal coverage that allowed for personalized at-home assistance.

Heather’s compassion and dedication gave Camille the ability to maintain her sense of independence in a safe and supportive living environment. “Now she is living on her own in the apartment with a caregiver visiting twice a month and assisting her with laundry, grocery shopping, and errands,” said Heather. “Camille is so excited to be on her own again and is thankful for all that we did for her.”
We are dedicated to supporting our clients and willing to go above and beyond to bring together the right resources. The reward is bringing peace of mind to clients like Camille; this inspires each of us to do even more every day.

Windward Life Care’s interdisciplinary team of Aging Life Care™ Managers has certification and professional training in a number of areas related to healthy aging, including nursing, geriatric care management, and social work. If you would like us to create a personalized plan for yourself or someone you care about, please visit:

*Due to respect of our clients’ privacy, some names have been altered.  


Windward Life Care client Dorie Radichel knows how to grab life by the horns.

dorie-on-zipline dorie-on-zipline-2

This 86-year-young great grandmother of four was recently asked to name an activity she always wanted to try. When her surprise answer was zip lining, Burnell Jackson, the Vibrant Life Coordinator at Villa Bonita where Dorie lives, started her on a fitness plan to help make Dorie’s dream a reality.

Dorie’s inspiring story is just one example of how Aging Life Care™ Managers at Windward Life Care support their clients to not just live, but thrive in their golden years. Taking a holistic and customized approach to care, the Windward team encourages clients to find purposeful activities that emphasize their unique strengths and interests.

To get Dorie ready for her big adventure, Burnell developed a stamina training regimen so Dorie would be able to ascend the two flights of stairs to the zipline platform. She was game! Dorie walked and climbed stairs daily until she reached her goal. A trip to the La Jolla Zip Zoom Ziplines in Pauma Valley was then arranged.

La Jolla Zip Zoom boasts the longest zipline course in Southern California. In some sections, zippers can travel up to 55 miles per hour. And Dorie had a blast! With the harness keeping her safely tethered to the zipline, she enjoyed the long ride and spectacular views of the Pauma Valley, Palomar Mountain, and the San Luis Rey River. You can see Dorie on the zipline at a video posted on Villa Bonita’s website.

So what’s next on Dorie’s adventure list? “Burnell has told me about an indoor sky diving place. You can free fall at over 11,000 feet. That sounds interesting,” Dorie quipped. Stay tuned!

Trust the Process

May 17, 2014
Sometimes, you just need to let go, and trust the process.
Sometimes, you just need to let go, and trust the process.

I’m currently working with a couple who, like most of our clients, had never worked with a Care Manager before engaging our services. They live independently in their home in San Diego, and the husband has advanced dementia. This couple started with assistance from a caregiver in four-hour shifts, twice weekly.

We introduced a caregiver who we thought would make a good match with the husband’s personality and care needs. He made slow but steady progress in building rapport with my client, and his wife came to enjoy the opportunity for some regular respite. Unfortunately, the caregiver required some time off, and we had to introduce a new employee to cover in his absence.  The family was very hesitant, reluctant to work with someone else and fearful of the change and disruption in their loved ones’ routines.

I explained the benefit of having a team of caregivers in place to accommodate inevitable and unpredictable changes that come with home care scheduling: vacations, sick days, etc. With some gentle persuasion, the family agreed and accepted the assignment of a new caregiver.  Working closely with our human resources department to make another “match,” I introduced a new caregiver, who did a great job with this elderly gentleman.  And we were delighted to find that this second caregiver was able to assist the client with things the first caregiver had been unable to.  His wife was amazed with the progress he had made in one shift. Best of all, the personality fit appeared to be even better with her husband.

Bringing someone new into your home can feel frightening, and sometimes threatening. We understand this. Families often don’t know what to expect, and have preconceived ideas of what their loved one prefers or what’s going to work (or not work). This is an area where our objective perspective, and our years of experience in developing care plans and managing care teams can be invaluable.  Many families are surprised to find just how well their loved one adjusts to the assistance of a caregiver.

As a Care Manager, I work to identify caregivers who are a good fit for each of my family’s needs.  And sometimes it does take a couple tries to find the optimal caregiver (or caregivers), but we’ll keep working until we get it right. As difficult as it may be, I encourage our families to trust their Care Manager, and trust in the process.  I love seeing how much relief and assistance a skilled caregiver can bring to a stressed household.


March is Social Work Month, and the values of social work are at the core of everything we do at Elder Care Guides. Our clinical team includes individuals with a broad range of education and training, three of whom have earned a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. We invite you to get to know the professional social workers on our staff:

Amy Abrams, Cassie Farrell, and Susan Valoff
Amy Abrams, Cassie Farrell, and Susan Valoff:
our social work stars!






Amy Abrams, MSW/MPH, CMC (Vice President, Client Services)

Amy co-founded Elder Care Guides in 2004, and has worked in the field of elder care in San Diego for nearly 15 years, in medical case management, home care, and geriatric care management. She earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Sociology and Women’s Studies from the University of California at San Diego, and a joint Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health from San Diego State University. Amy is certified by the National Academy of Certified Care Managers, and is an active member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM). She currently sits on the Board of Directors of NAPGCM, and chairs the association’s Research Development Committee. Locally, she is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Glenner Memory Care Centers.

“I’ve been witness to some remarkable transformations in the lives of our clients, and strongly believe that age and disability are not about ‘decline,’ but are a phase of life with opportunities for growth, development, and positive change. I watched as both of my beautiful grandmothers became most fully themselves in their final years, and hold them up as examples of what’s possible for all of us. I count myself lucky to have discovered the field of geriatric care management early on in my career, and get great satisfaction from the work I do both for Elder Care Guides and for my profession. I’m deeply dedicated to the professional standards and ethics of NAPGCM, and feel that through service to my colleagues who are doing this work around the country, I’m influencing the future of how we care for people with disabilities.”

Cassie Farrell, MSW (Care Manager)

Cassie is a social worker experienced in working with a variety of client populations, including older adults with physical and cognitive impairments, individuals with mental health diagnoses, and persons with developmental disabilities in San Diego since 2005. Elder Care Guides was pleased to welcome her to our clinical team in 2013, with her wide ranging clinical knowledge and experience. Cassie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Science and Geology from State University of New York at Binghamton, and earned her Master of Social Work degree from San Diego State University in 2011, with an emphasis in mental health and gerontology. She is currently working toward licensure (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), and is in the process of completing her Care Management Certification through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.

“Unfortunately, the process of aging often comes with many losses: those of physical functioning, mental cognition, friends and family members, homes, jobs, and skills, to name a few. I have found that these losses take their toll on the individual, and often lead to depression and other mental health concerns. In my work as a Geriatric Care Manager, I strive to focus on the older adult’s strengths and the things in life that bring them happiness. I enjoy building a team that surrounds the person and highlights the joys in their life, rather than the deficits. We can look at the glass as half-empty or half-full, and I always see the glass as half-full. I strive to share that vision with my clients and their families, in effect supporting older adults to have the very best quality of life.”

Susan Valoff, LCSW, C-ASWCM (Vice President, Clinical Services)

Susan has 20 years of experience in healthcare and geriatrics, as a hospital social worker, educator, healthcare administrator, and geriatric care manager. She joined the Elder Care Guides team in 2009, and is a partner in the company. Susan earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in American Civilization and Hispanic Literature and Culture from Brown University, and a Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in the state of California, and is credentialed as a Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager (C-ASWCM) through the National Association of Social Workers. Susan is a member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, and a founding member of the San Diego Geriatric Care Managers Local Unit.

“One of the reasons I became a social worker was my experience helping to advocate for my uncle, who lived with schizophrenia, within the health care and mental health systems in Missouri. In my first post-graduate job at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, I worked on an interdisciplinary team whose goal was to help people achieve the greatest amount of independence possible, whether they had survived a stroke, were recovering from a traumatic injury, or were managing a chronic condition. In this setting, I learned the importance of ‘starting where the client is’: understanding an individual’s goals, and then providing the resources and support to help him or her get there. I also learned that quality of life is more important in many cases than finding a cure. At Elder Care Guides, I find my roles as teacher and advocate to be the most rewarding. And I enjoy supervising our clinical staff, helping them to be the most knowledgeable and effective educators and advocates that they can be for the clients we serve.”


182062569November is National Family Caregiver Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and Elder Care Guides joined the nation in honoring the 65 million caregivers in the United States.  According to a recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 29 percent of the U.S. population provides care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family or friend during any given year, and these dedicated and loving individuals spend an average of 20 hours per week providing that care. 

It’s frequently cited that caregivers are at elevated risk of depression and various health conditions. But in contrast to the pervasive belief that “caregiving is bad for your health,” a new study from Johns Hopkins suggests that being a caregiver for a family member with a disability may actually lead to a longer life.

“Taking care of a chronically ill person in your family is often associated with stress, and caregiving has been previously linked to increased mortality rates,” said Dr. David Roth, Director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, and first author of the study published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Roth and his colleagues studied and compared data on 3,503 family caregivers to that of 3,503 non-caregivers. All of those studied were over age 45, and the two groups were matched based on demographics, health history, and health behaviors. After six years, they found that “significantly fewer” caregivers had died compared to the non-caregivers, with the caregiver group experiencing “an 18 percent reduced rate of death.”

“If highly stressful situations can be avoided or managed effectively, caregiving may actually offer some health benefits for both the care recipients and the caregivers, including reduced risk of death for those providing care,” Roth said. “Public discussions of caregiving should more accurately balance the potential risks and gains of this universal family role.”

As Dr. Roth indicates, caregivers are split into two different groups: those who are prepared for (and avoid) highly stressful situations, and those who are not managing those highly stressful situations effectively. According to the John Hopkins study, those families who are prepared receive the added benefit of longer life.

Professional Care Managers work with many families who care deeply about their loved one, and wish to be actively involved. Those who work full time, or are raising their own children are especially pressed for time, and short on energy. Through our involvement, we witness the transformation of worried, exhausted family caregivers into more relaxed, well-supported, prepared individuals, who feel confident in their decision-making. We offer advocacy, education, psychosocial support, medication management … and a warm, understanding smile when it’s needed most.

Elder Care Guides appreciates all caregivers – including our own professional caregiver employees who work in the homes of our clients, providing value, purpose, and dignity to their days. We consider every caregiver to be a hero – not just this month, but every month.

What’s important in the end

November 23, 2013

Central to my role as a Care Manager is supervision of the professional caregivers who work with my clients. At least weekly, I speak with the caregivers, who in many ways are my eyes and ears. With their help, I am aware of the day-to-day aspects of my clients’ routines, and learn immediately of any changes in their status or patterns (eating, sleeping, pain, activity, etc.). I am also in regular communication with my clients, their families and representatives, and their health care professionals, but find that some of the richest information comes from the caregivers I work with.

Some of my clients have families who live out of town, or have no remaining family. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the relationships between these clients and their caregivers, which was highlighted for me this week in a poignant conversation with one of my caregiver employees.

Maria has worked with Mrs. S for approximately four years.  Mrs. S is a 98-year-old widow with dementia and other health problems who resides in her beautiful San Diego home. She has a team of Elder Care Guides caregivers with her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mrs. S needs assistance with many ADLs (activites of daily living) and IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living) including meal preparation, bathing, transportation, medication assistance, socialization, and transferring.

Over the years that we have served Mrs. S, her cognitive abilities have declined. Maria has been with her every step of the way. Mrs. S always has a bright smile for Maria when she arrives. When Mrs. S is confused about where she is, Maria reassures her that she is in her home, and skillfully redirects her attention to another topic. As Mrs. S has lost her ability to initiate in-depth conversations, Maria has taken up a majority of the talking. Maria has noticed that when Mrs. S appears anxious, starting a comfortable conversation will calm and relax her.

Maria has worked with Mrs. S five or six days a week for several years, and has never heard her client mention God, a higher power, or any spiritual beliefs. However, recently Mrs. S told her: “Of all the angels in all the heavens, I have been sent the very best. You have been sent to me by heaven.  I’m so glad you’re here.”

This moment touched Maria deeply, and she told me tearfully how appreciated she felt, and that all of her work with Mrs. S had been worthwhile and meaningful. She relayed this story as the happiest moment she’d experienced as a caregiver. Maria shared with me her observation that Mrs. S’s emotions are an aspect of her personality that has remained intact, amidst a great deal of decline. This client is very aware of other people’s emotions and still responds emotionally to many situations. “When I show her love, she shows it right back.”

Maria reminded me again this week of the importance of many of the relationships between my clients and their caregivers. Mrs. S has very little short term memory, but some long term memories are strong, and her emotions are intact. It has meant the world to Mrs. S to have been cared for with dignity, respect, and love.  In the end, the relationships we have with those around us are of utmost importance, and I am so grateful to have witnessed the beautiful relationship forged between Mrs. S and her angel, Maria.