Dignity and respect. Whether we know it or not, these are two things we all strive for in our lives. No one likes to feel disrespected or belittled but, it seems that’s what we tend to do to people who are old or disabled.
My father told me that people look at him and often treat him differently since he became wheelchair dependent. “People really do look down on you,” he told me. “It often seems they don’t see you at all.”
Dad has been wheelchair dependent for about six years. He is alert, oriented, well read, and educated. He has a sharp sense of humor and is very witty. He is 93 years old, and he does not act his age. He lives in a very nice nursing home, and for the most part, he’s happy and content. At 93, his desire for dignity and respect remains firmly intact, but he must work harder for it because he says that the automatic impression for most people about someone his age is that they have dementia. Every time he encounters a new person, he must prove that he is alert and oriented.
Not long ago, I read a Columbia University study on the prevalence of cognitive impairment. The study showed that 35 percent of people over the age of 90 have dementia or mild cognitive impairment. That may sound like a significant number but turn it around and it sounds much better: 65% of people over the age of 90 do not have dementia or mild cognitive impairment. That’s a much more optimistic way of looking at things, isn’t it?
So, what does that mean for caregivers? For families? For anyone over 90? To me, it means we must take time to talk with the person we’re caring for and we should give their cognition the benefit of the doubt whenever we can. Just because someone “looks” old or demented (what does that look like?) doesn’t necessarily mean they are. As caregivers, we must always remember the person we are caring for and we must be mindful of how we care for them. We must guard against “factorizing” the care we give; it is routine but it’s also individual with each interaction unique to itself. Our elders with cognitive impairment deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, too. That means allowing them to make the decisions they can, even if that means it takes longer to get a task done. Know, as their disease progresses, they will need more help and will look to you, their caregiver for it. Their unspoken hope is that you, while continuing to help them, will continue to treat them as you wish to be treated, with dignity and respect.
If you need help caring for an elderly loved one, Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law is here for you. Call us at 615.824.2571 to schedule a consultation.