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Independence, Control and Self-determination

     It shouldnít be a surprise that you and your loved one donít always agree on whatís best for him or her. No two people agree on everything all the time.

     When conflict arises, what can you do? As you make your decisions, itís helpful if you keep in mind these guidelines:

     ● Encourage and allow independence.

     A part of growing to adulthood is accepting, and sometimes demanding, independence. An illness or mental deterioration can mean the chipping away of that personal freedom. A goal for you as a caregiver is to delay or to minimize that erosion. Your role is to offer assistance that helps your loved one remain as independent as possible.

     That means you donít take over tasks or make decisions that person can still handle. For example, donít dress her in the morning just because it would take you only five minutes but it takes her twenty. Donít decide he needs a lifestyle that is as active as his health will allow when what he really wants is a quieter schedule because heís lived a long and hectic life and now he wants to rest.

     ● Whenever possible, let your care-receiver be in control.

     Itís human nature that we want to be in the driverís seat when it comes to our own lives. Giving up control, or having it snatched from us, can make us angry and frightened.

     For example, what you may see as a mere detail can be monumental to Dad. Maybe he has always gone to the 8:30 Mass on Sunday morning but now youíre concerned about his getting there on his own. So you unilaterally decide the two of you will go to the 5:00 Mass on Saturday evening and you canít understand why heís so upset.

     After all, youíre the one making the sacrifice, arenít you? Youíre the one doing him a favor. But from your fatherís point of view, youíre trying to ruin his Sunday morning routine. Now he wonít be able to say hello to his fellow ď8:30 regulars,Ē the friends and peers he enjoys visiting with each week.

    Letting him keep some control might mean mutually agreeing that one or two Sundays each month you take him to the 8:30 on Sunday. Let him pick which Sundays. Likely, after a while, heíll feel equally comfortable with ďthe strangersĒ at the Saturday Mass, too.

     ● Remember each of us has a God-given right to self-determination.

     We were created to make choices. We were given free will. This means that day-to-day living, your loved one has the right to determine what his or her life will look like. To do this or to do that.

     Thatís fine in theory, but complicating the issue in the real world of the caregivers and care-receiver is the fact that, sadly, at some point your loved oneís ability to make safe decisions may begin to fail. He or she may begin to choose what is dangerous or unhealthy or may lapse into self-neglect.

     Thatís not a valid excuse for you to decide on your own that your loved one is ďincompetentĒ and to take over all decision making for him or her.

     Itís better for you, and the care-receiver, to ask for a professional geriatric assessment, to help objectively evaluate the situation. Your dioceseís Catholic Charities or Catholic Community Services office may offer services to help you assess your loved oneís needs and make plans for the future.

     Itís possible to design a plan including any necessary precautions without losing sight of:

     --the importance of your loved oneís independence;

     --his or her the need to be in control as much as possible; and

     --that personís right to determine how he or she wants to live the remainder of his or her life.

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