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RESPECTING PERSPECTIVES: Honoring Individual Values on Aging

My Dad was always accepting of aging and living life to its fullest. “When I die, cry for a minute, then have a party,” he would say. When he couldn’t walk up the 20 steps to his apartment in New York City, he reluctantly - but willingly - went to an assisted living community. There he read the newspaper cover to cover at the coffee bar each morning, he participated in scrabble club, and he strolled to hear local lectures until his legs couldn’t carry him.

Mom’s perspective was the opposite: “Aging is unfair.” After all the fulfillment she found from her educational accomplishments and travel experiences, Mom never could accept that her body and mind declined over the years. And as much as she enjoyed interacting with the variety of patients in her psychotherapy practice, she never wanted to live ‘with the old people’ in a retirement community; rather, she stayed firmly planted at home until her last day.

Raised with these two divergent perspectives on aging, it’s no wonder I earned a Master of Arts in Gerontology to become a Geriatric Care Manager, seeking to support people on their aging journeys. I feel honored to be part of a ‘circle of care’ for the diverse clients in my practice, whether they desire to transition to an independent, assisted living, or memory care community, or whether they aim to stay put. It’s not always a clear-cut choice, of course, and these kinds of decisions are impacted by many factors. Especially when cognitive impairment is in the picture.

As we know, among California’s baby boomers who live to age 65 or older, one in six will develop Alzheimer’s Disease, and one in five will develop another form of dementia. Family Caregivers provide the majority of care for people living with brain change, taking on responsibilities that often result in negative health consequences for the caregivers themselves, possibly including feelings of discouragement, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and burnout.

As a Certified Consultant in Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care, I’ve seen the myriad tasks family caregivers have to manage when their spouse, partner, or parent is experiencing brain change. In addition to helping with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) such as providing transportation, preparing meals, managing medications, helping with shopping, and paying bills, very often family caregvier support extends to activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, feeding, and bathing as dementia progresses.

Family caregivers also provide vital social and emotional connection as their loved ones experience brain change and the various psychological and behavioral manifestations that accompany it. Economic and cultural factors also influence how families consider their options for care.

These conversations and decisions are weighted with emotion. With personal experience caring for family members, and by partnering with my clients to help navigate these waters, I believe it is vitally important for all of us in the field to respect each person’s unique perspective in order keep joy and quality of life front and center.

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