By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., Executive Director, Colony Retirement Homes
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman
Consider these two sentiments:
“I am 90 years old. I have high blood pressure. My doctor has told me that for every grain of salt I consume, I am taking a week off my life. I may not live forever, but I want every week that I can. I don’t care how bland my food tastes, I want to be provided the food that will help me live the longest.”
“I am 90 years old. I have high blood pressure. I have had a great run. I want to enjoy what is left. I want my food to be full of flavor. I don’t care how bad it is for me. I want comfort food and bacon every day. This is my life and my choice and I want to go out with a bang.”
I see similar dichotomies in a world with COVID-19. Some elders are reasonably happy to hole themselves away and wait this pandemic out with minimal human contact. Some are deciding to live their lives, consequences be damned. Most are in the middle, cautiously watching special events from afar or having family dinners outside.
But where does this leave elder care professionals? How are we supposed to offer freedom and choice while guaranteeing health and safety, especially now? The truth is, we can’t, and that is ok.
Each and every one of us, compromised or healthy, needs to make our own choices. Our job, as elder care professionals, is to respect the autonomy of those we care for and about. We can certainly offer better choices, but ultimately, what they do is up to them.
Elder care professionals have choices, too, and like it or not, our clients must respect our choices. What does this look like?
- I’m sorry Mr. Smith, but I won’t come into your apartment to clean unless you step outside. I know you just went to a big reunion and I don’t want to be around people who are not being safe.
- Sure, Mrs. Jones, I’ll give you a ride to the market, but only if you promise to wear a mask in my car and use hand sanitizer.
- I will carry this to your door for you but let me walk ahead. I don’t want to be near someone who isn’t wearing their mask over both their mouth and their nose.
Some people struggle to define their own boundaries and reinforce them if pressed. While I understand the desire to keep the peace, I am also aware that every exposure I have increases the risk for those I love. I don’t remind people about masks or washing hands because I want to shame them, I remind them to keep my family safe.
And then life gets complicated and people change their minds. People are human and imperfect. Personally, I flip flop between counting every calorie one day and having ice cream for dinner the next. I have avoided several family get-togethers and yet I did hug a distant acquaintance I ran into. When you run into someone who wants to be safe or healthy but refuses to take the recommended steps, remind yourself of your own shortcomings. Be patient with them, as they are probably able to point out your missteps. Remember, this world is not full of hypocrites, there is always room for more.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be