Lesson Nine: Reach Out to Family – Aging Our Way

80% of elder care comes from family members who mean well.

These efforts are 100% more successful if the elder involved is central to the care planning process.


This morning, on WAMC‘s Roundtable talk show, the topic was “A Place for Mom.” The organization with this name, with spokesperson Joan Lunden, was highlighted. And Joe Donohue, the show’s host, shared his own experiences in caring for his dad. At one point he said that family members had all come up with solutions for caring for dad, including his dad. In the end, “Dad was the one who was right about which solutions worked for him, 99% of the time.”

To me, this makes perfect sense. The elder should be at the center of his/her own care planning process, if at all possible. Afterall, we all know best what we need, right?


All of us carry around personalized recipes for self-care. Here are some of the things I hear when I talk with elders about self-care:

*I could use help with chopping veggies, but cooking for myself is crucial.

*Hugs and touch are more important to me now that my husband is gone.

*A hot shower is the best way to start a day.

*Getting up later in the day makes the day go by faster.

*Creative projects make me feel better about myself and my life.

*A phone call a day helps me to feel “alive.”

*Giving back gives me a sense of purpose.

*Staying in my home is important to me, as is resting my sore back.

… and the list goes on.


We all hope that those close to us can be excellent mind-readers when the time comes to do so. But let’s be real; that rarely happens. It is hard to reach out to family at any age; to communicate needs. And that doesn’t get any easier when one is in their 80s or 90s, when they are sensitive about about not being taken seriously, and about feeling like a burden.

But when care planning is a topic that is raised early, in sensitive ways, and over a period of time, it can help an elder to start thinking about what assistance might look like today and into the future. These conversations are not easy, but in the long-haul, if done with everyone’s blessing, everyone can walk away feeling more secure.

This is exactly what happened when Margaret asked her son to call her every morning, and to give her more hugs. Or when Lore asked her granddaughter to take her to a weekly art class at the local college.

Most importantly, these conversations need not be framed around “care planning” per se. Why not start with asking what contributes to your elder’s sense of health, comfort, routine, and purpose? And then allow the elder take it from there.


Ensuring that the elder is at the center of family care decisions makes sense. Not only is this about basic respect, but it is about honoring continuity in an elder’s life, and a sense of control and independence, something most of us good Americans are working hard to protect.

This is the ninth in a 13- post series on living well, adapted from Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond

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Meika Loe

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