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Living at Risk


As parents age and become more frail, families wrestle with the subject of “to what degree do we stand by, knowing that mother and dad are living at risk?’

In this situation, living at risk is not a specific, defined state, but rather a collection of concerns occurring when independently-minded folks refuse to acknowledge that some of their behaviours are putting them at risk for a less safe and secure life. And, in consequence, worry the family to despair.

For those who do not want to leave their long-time home and hold to their belief that they are “managing just fine,” some of the risks are caused by actual, over-looked structural weaknesses such as loose steps, missing hand rails, poor lighting, impeded walkways, inaccessible bathroom fixtures, overloaded electrical circuits amongst many other possibilities.

Kitchen related risks cause much real worry: outdated, rotting food in the fridge, insufficient food in the house, dangerous arrangement of stove-kettle-cords, slippery or sticky floors, or burned pots and pans.

Of course, medication management is critical and one of the most confused and error-ridden problems of all. Unfortunately, missed or doubled doses can result in serious changes in clinical condition which are not necessarily apparent immediately.

So, for the safety of older people and some peace of mind for their families, what can or should be done without insulting the elderly and causing some real family upset.

The respect for authority amongst most older seniors remains strong and here is a good time and place to take advantage of that fine characteristic. The family physician can be asked to explain to seniors that their resistance to change is causing grief to the family members, that it is threatening their own safety and that it is causing serious clinical problems.

A spiritual leader can be asked to explain the aspect of kindness that compliance would mean to the family.

This is a very good time to be ensuring the Will, Power of Attorney,
Representation Agreement and Directives are understood, in place and
signed. At that time the lawyer can explain that should an accident occur because of non-compliance to recommended changes in the house or level of care, the family would be very distressed.

None of these approaches may be any more “successful” than the family’s pleadings and perhaps, if there is not advanced dementia at play, it is time to embrace the concept of the right to live at risk.

Written by Anne Duggan, Invited Advisor to Bell Alliance

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