Ageism + Caregiving = Unnecessary Suffering

Stories about care-giving in the November 2014 issue of Oprah magazine really saddened me; first for the obvious heartache these families expressed, and second for the less obvious but equally painful message that most of us should expect our parents to become frail and dependent, resulting in trauma and heartache.  Aging extremes are so prevalent in the media (frail/dependent vs. bungee jumping 90 year olds) that it’s easy to forget the vast majority of family aging experiences will lie somewhere between the extremes.

As a speaker I often ask audiences what % of adults over 65 will require nursing home care. Answers range from 40-75%. The correct answer is about 7%.  At age 85+ it climbs to 24%, which also means that 76% of adults 85+ do not require this level of care. 

To avoid unnecessary family conflict and suffering, consider a different response to changing health status of a loved one.

1) Take age out of the equation. Age is not the issue -circumstances and challenges are- and no age group is immune to those.  Start family conversations early that flow both ways, with adult children being as pro-active and forthcoming laying out their personal “emergency plans” as they are asking their parents to be. 

2) Build a plan of action around creating a culture of well-being rather than illness management. If allowed to, management needs like medication, appointments, and personal care can overwhelm the care environment and diminish an individual’s sense-of-self. This in turn actively diminishes resilience – the very thing a person needs most to live well in-spite of challenges.  

Take your cue from families with profoundly disabled children who build lives of well-being for the whole family. The challenges are undeniable but they aren’t the central focus of life.


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