The opening comment at this RT was about a grandfather who refused the idea of being cared for when a dedicated grandson helped with grocery shopping and other household chores. Despite a rational dialog, the grandfather refused to accept the idea of being cared for. While we can debate about why some elders refuse help in order to stalwartly maintain their independence, the Blieszner* journal article was not about giving care. Rather, it explores the concept of how one can be a caring individual, with a lifetime of experience, relationships and history behind them. Caring she defines as an attachment and an intimacy in relationships and illustrates the many kinds of caring that find expression in an older adult.
Too often we consider care as uni-directional – we are the family caregivers, homecare aides, or healthcare providers. But in fact, older adults are also providers and givers of care. Sadly, this isn’t acknowledged often enough. But if we did, would it make a difference in an older adult’s sense of self, and give more meaning and reason for living?
Giving care, taking care – language matters. I have seen changes in usage and meaning from care taking to care giving to care partners. How may we interpret this? In the context of older and frail adults we mean providing a variety of services. But shouldn’t we consider that an older person can also be a giver, not simply the receiver, otherwise we risk not seeing that person as the individual he or she is. Older frail people are still capable of giving care; and not recognizing that quality is yet another way of taking away that person’s independence. Isn’t this the essence of personhood and person-centered care?
I have had a front row center seat to this experience with my mother this past month, who has been receiving home care for the first time in her 94 years. Receiving care connotes the frail person as only a taker. And what I have seen, despite her new limitations is her interest and care in every new person (and there have been many!) who enters her home. She listens attentively to everyone’s immigrant story, she pays them appropriately and is respectful of their work ethic and is gracious each time they enter her home. But as she continues to decline, what bothers her greatly is that she has begun to feel that she has become a burden to her family and doesn’t want her needs to interrupt our lives. It is an expression of her taking care of us.
I was also reminded of a moment more than 20 years ago when I worked on a dementia unit. As I walked past a woman, pacing the floor and reciting a long forgotten poem, she patted me gently on the bottom. I felt a warm connection, she was being caring. This is the essence of the Blieszner article. Older adults live amid multiple relationships, many of which display and express caring. By acknowledging my mother’s role in the interactions she has with her aides, or the interest and curiosity she takes in the people who live in her building, values her as being a caring person and part of caring and reciprocal relationship.
Blieszner mentions the concept of linked lives, meaning how the historical experiences of one generation can impact the experience and life transitions for another generation. But think, we are each linked to one another in so many ways. My mother reflects on her own family’s immigrant experience as she listens to the newly immigrant women; was the reciter of poetry responding to me as a beloved child? Did the grandfather simply want to have a fun afternoon outing with his grandson continuing an intimate connection with him?
We are all linked and caring is the expression of our humanity.