Posted by: karljfeller | January 13, 2015

Is that Turkey or soup? Preserving dignity for seniors.

moldy_appleYears ago, when I was just out of college and working at my first job, I often shopped the clearance aisle at a local grocery store to save money. I know, scary, but I was young, a bachelor and my stomach could handle it. One day after dropping off my groceries at home, I ran out to meet some friends. I came back home to find that my ‘new’ groceries were gone. My roommate said yeah, he cleaned all of the old stuff out of the fridge. ‘Frustrated’ is the word I’ll officially use on my blog, but probably doesn’t paint a true picture of my blood boiling that day.

Recently, I heard the story of how a well meaning friend went through her grandparents fridge and cleaned all of the old and expired food out for them. At first thought, it seemed like the perfect gesture. As I remembered my ‘well meaning’ roommate though, I was reminded of how frustrating it was for me when someone threw out my ‘expired’ food. Did it need to be done? Sure, but my friend hadn’t involved her grandpa in the process. What would her grandpa think when he opened the fridge the next time?

Our whole lives we move towards more responsibility, more independence, more respect. Often though, in the later years of life, our independence is taken from us. Put yourself in their shoes: Failing eyesight means that the drivers license you worked so hard for at age sixteen is gone, your doctor tells you what you can and can’t eat anymore, maybe they’re asked not to use the stairs to their basement anymore, the list goes on.

Is change necessary in later stages of life? Sure. Change is necessary in every stage of life. But how can you help someone who has worked so hard for their independence keep as much dignity in the later stages of life?

Involve them in the process. Was my friend saving her grandpa from some serious stomach issues? Probably. But that well meaning friend forgot to ask him to be a part of the process. Maybe a fitting conversation would be: Grandpa, I noticed a few older things in your fridge that are going bad, can we go through the fridge together?

So much independence gets taken from our seniors. It’s important to involve them in the process, give them choices. Ask how you can help, rather than making the decision for them. As a hospice chaplain for East Valley Hospice, I often see patients lose choices as well. It’s hard to give someone choices when they can’t verbally respond. A few ideas in that stage of life, are to knock on the way into the room, ask questions and watch to see if they respond with a head nod or hand gesture.

Was it quicker for my friend to go through the fridge on her own? Sure. But slowing down long enough to involve her grandpa in the process helped preserve his dignity and engaged him in the process. After some conversations about this with my friend, they were able to involve their grandpa in some other upkeep around the house. He responded by readily and got involved in the process. Did it take longer? Sure, but he was involved in the process.

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