Ability Should Always Come Before Disability

Megan Ray  |  August 30, 2011

Senior citizen walkingAs parents age, they may start having trouble living independently. This could be due to arthritis, frailty or a chronic condition, but that doesn't mean that they are suddenly unable to do the things they used to enjoy.

The key for families to adjust to a senior's needs may be to put ability before disability, according to Joy Lovendre, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner.

In her book, Lovendre writes that "older adults who have a chronic illness should be considered people first and people with disabilities second. Living with a chronic illness doesn't necessarily mean living with sickness. Attitudes will greatly influence choices of treatment and quality of life... we must do our best to avoid mischaracterizing our elders as sick or unmotivated people."

Unfortunately, this can be a difficult balance. Older adults who are no longer capable of living alone may become depressed or isolated, while caregivers can sometimes start feeling overwhelmed. Lovendre explains that seniors often face psychological obstacles when coming to terms with their disabilities and have to find ways to feel productive when being assisted.

Assisted living communities specialize in engaging residents in meaningful activities so they can keep their sense of purpose. Experienced professionals work to help ensure that a senior lives the safest and fullest life possible and the vibrant social opportunities encourage social interactions among residents.

When it comes to senior care at home, there's another side effect that was recently highlighted by a new study from researchers at Penn State and the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging - sometimes, caregivers are overbearing when they are assisting a senior. You may think that Mom and Dad are incapable of doing things that they can still do.

"Family caregivers often become the surrogate decision makers of relatives who have dementia, so the two groups need to communicate well and to understand each other," said study lead author Steven Zarit. He added, "for example, the person with dementia might think it is very important to continue to be part of family celebrations, but his or her caregiver might not."

The researchers specifically looked at patients with dementia, but this issue can be applied to most caregiving families. You may think you're doing what's best for a parent, but it's important to take his or her wishes into account. Overall, this can make the quality of care much better.

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