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What the elderly need...

Published by Chapster on 2002/4/14 (5113 reads)
Q: Mike, in working with the elderly, what do you find are their biggest concerns?

A: Well, I think the concerns of the elderly parallel the concerns of those who are younger. That is, they desire 1) a sense of meaning and purpose; 2) freedom to make their own choices; 3) a sense of belonging to family and community; 4) and a sense that they are valued by their loved ones and society at large.

Q: So, what does this mean as we care for the elderly?

A: It means that we should consider each of these values: meaning, freedom, belonging, and worth, when we are trying to meet the needs of our elderly. So, for instance, let's consider the idea of the need for meaning. All of us need a sense of purpose in our lives. This is especially true of the elderly because of all the physical and mental changes that we experience as we age. It may seem natural to feel that we are of declining value in our families and community. This is especially true in long term care settings. We pay for our elderly to sit and watch television. This often reinforces a sense of worthlessness. On the other hand, thoughtful caregivers encourage the elderly in redefining their lives with new meaning. At the Gesundheit Institute, run by Patch Adams, the physician made famous in the movie of the same name, everyone, within the limits of their ability, has a job that's assigned to them to do. Everyone is a participant in caring for the facility and for other patients. So, one goal as we care for the elderly would be to do things to enhance their sense of meaning and to be tuned to a declining sense of self-worth.

Q: What are some other ways that we might instill a sense of meaning?

A: I think that our connection with children as we age is extraordinarily important. Watch the eyes of the elderly when children come around, and you’ll see them come to life. I often see elderly women cuddling baby dolls and imagine how much they would enjoy being around kids.

I might add that we rob our children of an important experience by separating them from older people. Caring for older folks is a great antidote to the modern emphasis on youth and physique. Moreover, it endows our children with a sense of connection to their past.

I should also point out that children should NOT be unsupervised around adults of whatever age who have the potential for violence. This can be especially true where there is a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease or other diseases where there is a similar possibility. You should always consult with your physician before keeping your children in such environments.

Q: You also mentioned other values relevant to older adults?

A: Yes. Another value of great concern to the elderly is a desire for continued independence. Indeed, the changes associated with aging can be enormous and frightening. A group of widows in one of our seminars told us how hard it is for them to spend the evenings alone. They remembered going out to eat at night with their husbands. Now, they're scared to go out at night because of nighttime glare. They spoke of how much they wished that their families, friends, or anyone, would just take them out to eat. We may not be able to change what our elderly friends and loved ones are able to do, but we can try to help them enjoy the freedom they do have. We can also improve the quality of life they do experience. The same is true for the other two values mentioned earlier. By being sensitive to the feelings of our aging loved ones and reassuring them of our concern for these values, we help them to cope with the changes they are experiencing in a more meaningful way. In truth, what the elderly need may not be so very different from what you and I need.

Tags: support   caring   caregiving   seniors   needs   elders  

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