Setting Priorities: Needs vs. Wants

By M. Allison Reeves


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Managing everything that has to be done can be especially challenging when caregiving. Many family caregivers discover they just don’t have the time and energy to do it all for the person they are looking after, let alone remembering to take care of themselves as well. Learning the difference between a need and a want can be extremely useful in helping you to decide what gets addressed first, and where to direct your limited resources.

Basically a need is: water, food, shelter, sleep and air. Certain medications can be added to this, as can certain medical procedures. Everything other than these basic needs can be considered a want. In all cases, the needs of both you and the person you are caring for must be met before anyone's wants are even considered.

Just to give you an idea about needs vs. wants. Water is necessary, although not necessarily bottled or sparkling. Food is essential, although not necessarily the best of everything. Shelter is a must, whether a shared home or a room in a facility, although it may not be a preferred two-storey house with a beautiful garden.

That being said, needs always come before wants. As a family caregiver, your needs are like that of the person on the airplane who has to put on their own air mask first before attending to their child or the person they are looking after. Difficult though this may be, as a family caregiver the person you are caring for needs you not to burn out.

As a caregiver, your needs come before the wants of the person you are caring for. This was a “aha” moment for some of the family caregivers in my recent webinar on this topic at the Family Caregivers’ Network.

One caregivers indicated she was so focused on her husband’s needs and wants that she had not even realized she had basic needs that had to be met as well – sleep, nutrition, looking after her own health concerns.

Another caregiver recognized that her need for respite time away – which translated into sleep, rest and time to recharge – took priority over her husband’s want to stay at home and not in a respite suite at a care facility while she was gone. Doing this would allow both his needs and her needs to be met while she was away.

Caregiving well means clarifying what is needed versus what is wanted. Once everyone's needs are met, then it becomes possible to consider how you want to act on each person’s wants (desires), including your own.

To move from learning this to applying it, try the following activity: On a piece of paper create two columns, one labelled “needs” and the other labelled “wants”. Make a list for both you and the person you are caring for.

You may have an “aha!” moment or two yourself. If anything, you may be surprised to discover whose needs and wants have taken precedence in the past and whose may have been ignored.

To enable you to be a healthy and effective caregiver, realize that no one benefits by you burning out. When this happens, no one’s needs will get met.

M. Allison Reeves, M.A. is a Registered Clinical Counsellor. To reach her: call 250-927-6548 or visit www.allisonreevescounselling.com

 

SEPTEMBER 2013 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE

 

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