By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LMSW, Senior Care Advisor
I recently ran into an old family friend. While catching up, I explained that my current work involves helping caregivers plan care for their aging loved ones—at which point he exclaimed, “If I lost my autonomy and had to move in with my children, I don’t think life would be worth living!” This may sound a bit extreme—but that is how he feels—and honestly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a statement along these lines. But my experience was so much different with my own father. He was perfectly accepting of care from others as his ALS progressed, as long as he was still able to spend quality time with my mom and me.
These are two very different people with two contrasting perspectives on aging—but they exemplify why, when planning care for our loved ones, logistical solutions aren’t always enough. We also need to understand and respect our loves ones’ strongly held values about what is important in life, even if we have differing opinions. When we take our loved ones’ values into consideration, we are attending to their sense of contentment, instead of solely focusing on physical comfort and safety. Below are some common values that I’ve encountered when working with families. Incorporating values to determine which types of care to choose, and finding best-fit provider options can often help alleviate some stress and concerns, which I’ll talk more about below
Independence: Let’s face it—when we are so worried about Mom falling, our desire to ensure her safety can take top priority. Many elderly people, however, are willing to take physical risks for the sake of remaining independent in their homes. Therefore focusing on safety, without considering how she values her independence, may rob your mother of the life she wants to lead. But ignoring hazards entirely might put her welfare in jeopardy. That is the difficult balancing act of being a caregiver. If you believe your mother would be safer moving into assisted living, but she is adamantly opposed to doing so, consider what is motivating her decision. Use this information to elicit some of her thoughts and fears. If she is not ready to leave her home, perhaps hiring a home care assistant or making modifications to her house would be a better option—as this will help keep her safe but also you will be respecting her wishes and she is able to maintain a level of control and independence.
Spirituality: If religion or spirituality is important to your father, then take this into account when planning for his long-term care needs. Some nursing homes, aging life care communities and assisted living communities adhere to certain religious or cultural values; some offer a variety of religious services and have clergy on-site. Try to find a care provider that honors your father’s spiritual beliefs and not only cares for the body but nurtures the soul.
Learning: Has your grandmother always been curious about what’s going on in the world? An avid reader? A political junkie? Many people are life-long learners and feel their lives would lose value if they stopped acquiring new knowledge. Perhaps your grandmother would feel at home in a community with easy access to seminars, classes and group discussions. Or, if she chooses to remain at home, consider enrolling her in an adult day program or joining a local senior center that provides these opportunities. Additionally, many colleges offer classes specifically for seniors. You can also search for a caregiver who will read to her and provide stimulating conversation.
Family: Many of us value family—therefore continuing to spend time with family members is often crucial to keeping up spirits. Easy access for family visits is an important aspect when considering prospective communities. I recently worked with a family who chose a less luxurious nursing home down the street instead of the top-notch community 10 miles away, simply because it was easier to visit her father. She now visits him daily and speaks about the way his eyes light up when she and her children are there with him. If you don’t live close by, consider scheduling weekly “phone dates” or setting up FaceTime with the grandkids so your loved one can still engage and spend time with your family.
Most values are not set in stone—they often develop and evolve over time. Periodically check in with your mother about what is most important in the present moment. For example, your mother who fiercely valued independence may eventually find that living in her home is too isolating. Remaining attuned to her values may help your mother remain content with what life still has to offer. And that is something to value indeed.
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