“It’s so difficult to find the right gifts for loved-ones because what we really want for the holidays – connection, hope, faith, joy, wonder, magic – can’t be found on the shelves or on-line.” I’ve always remembered that insight – even though I can’t recall who said it!

This thought also relates to the common family gathering scenario of seeing a parent or loved-one you haven’t seen for a while and recognizing the challenges they were having last year have now progressed to a level requiring action.

What happens next can determine whether you move forward with connection, cooperation, and support (what most people really want), or trigger conflict, anger, and resentment.

In a perfect world – long before the need arose – your family would have discussed and planned for this type of scenario, but for the rest of us, a few do’s and don’ts can help us navigate this experience.

Don’t Discuss Anyone in Their Absence

It’s disrespectful to mount a discussion about “what to do about Mom/Grandpa/whoever” without including the person in question. A sure path to conflict is making decisions for someone without respecting their right to be fully involved.

Don’t Take a Negative Approach

Using a person’s inability to take care of themselves or their belongings, i.e., “your house/yard is unkept, you’re not able to _________ anymore,” will not get you anywhere.

This deficit focused approach will result in either despondent acceptance or an angry denial and demand to mind your own business. Both responses are equally destructive.

Don’t Blame It on Age

Assuming that your loved-one’s decline is “simply age” is unwise and unhealthy. Age is not a diagnosis, so don’t treat it as such.

Don’t Involve Connectedness

Many people tend to regress into family roles that take the focus off of solutions. This is not the time to compare how much better you know Dad than other family members, or air grievances.

Learn as Much as You Can About Your Loved One’s Daily Life

Gather as much information as possible from your loved-one and those in his daily life about how and what he’s doing. Consciously gather positives as well as negatives. Is he staying connected to friends, helping others, staying active, etc.?

Stay Focused on Solutions

It’s really tempting – especially when you expect push back and denial– to generate an irrefutable list of examples of how the person in question is unable to manage on his own anymore.

Seek a Medical Evaluation

Make sure you have the opinion of a medical professional, i.e., if your loved one is at risk for a fall then physical therapy can help.

Discuss Ideal Care Options

How does each person involved in decision making envision an optimal “care environment”? If one person wants to create a “safety bubble” and someone else is willing to accept risk in exchange for empowering the individual to do as much for themselves as possible, that sets the stage for both immediate and escalating conflict.

Understand Quality of Life Values

Ask your loved one about his most important values in regard to quality of life, and frame discussions around how to support those values as much as possible.

The goal is to seek adaptive strategies, assistance, and cooperation to help your loved one get what he needs/wants from the living environment.

Ultimately, most people want to retain control of their lives to the greatest degree possible so before making decisions, consider how you would react in their shoes.

Remember, you are seeking to create a conversation around this issue before it becomes a crisis leaving few options. Here are 3 ways to go about it.

Culture of Well-Being

Consciously create a culture of well-being rather than illness management. A culture of care can develop by default out of a health crisis. Illness management “hitch-hikes” home from the hospital and never leaves.

Prioritize well-being in all dimensions – physical, social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and vocational – rather than allowing medication management, doctor’s appointments, etc. to dominate the culture of care.

Care Partnership

Create a care partnership rather than a caregiver/care-receiver relationship. This helps build a care environment that can be sustained over the long haul.

A care partnership acknowledges that the needs of the person requiring care are often more urgent, but they are not more important than the needs of others involved.

The person needing care also has expectations for contributing to the best of his ability to his own well-being and the well-being of others. This approach recognizes his need for self-efficacy and to give as well as receive, regardless of challenges.

It may be as simple as saying thank you, graciously accepting help when needed, or recognizing when changes have to be made. A care partnership may also require respecting your loved one’s choices even if it makes a care-partner uncomfortable.

Disability Movement Model

Care partnerships require a delicate balance. Consider how empowering people with disabilities has demonstrated the critical need to uplift resilience, self-efficacy, purpose, and self-esteem to support their quality of life.

In this model, young people with severe disabilities are given resources, tools, and encouragement to overcome challenges and live fully in spite of them. They are provided adaptive strategies to help them participate in the broader world – not just strategies to make their world smaller and more manageable.

Adopt the same approach with a loved one, regardless of their age.

The Aging & Family Resilience Checklist can help you evaluate your existing culture of care. For additional reading, you can delve into these two journal articles, Aging and Family Resilience Part 1 and Part 2.

What kind of care environment do you envision for yourself if you ever needed assistance? Have you articulated that to family or friends? Has your family or friend group ever discussed the “what ifs” surrounding how to respond to a loved-one in need? Please join the conversation, and let’s discuss this important topic!

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