Risky Business

By Wendy Johnstone

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Wendy Johnstone is a Gerontologist and a consultant with Family Caregivers of British Columbia in Victoria, BC.

Last week during my evening neighbourhood walk, I came across a very interesting scenario: a man with a quad cane was on his roof cleaning out the eaves troughs.

Even with no additional knowledge of the situation, it was clear to me this couldn’t be a particularly safe way to go about it.

As I stopped to make conversation and inquire about helping, a woman emerged from the house. After a very brief and intense discussion between them, the man reluctantly (and quite precariously) descended from the roof.
We get many caregivers and concerned family members calling and asking how to determine the extent of risk as it relates to the people for whom they are caring.

In general, the term “living at risk” means individuals are free to engage in activities that may be considered risky, so long as they are mentally competent and don’t place others at risk or expose them to harm.

With age or someone living with a chronic disease or injury comes a higher likelihood of exposure to risk than other adults. Changes in health, the presence of chronic disease or varying mental capacity can make the people we care for more vulnerable to accidents or injuries.

Morally, caregivers and concerned family members have an obligation to protect the people they are caring for from harm.

It’s a fine line.

Smothering your aging mother or son with a brain injury can also undermine self-esteem and confidence. Having the ability to make choices about how to go about one’s day is not only a right, but a fundamental underpinning of living a dignified and independent life.

Putting it into practice, however, is rather tricky.

How can a son who guides mountaineering clients to altitudes of 20,000 feet reprimand his 85-year-old mother for using a ladder to clean her windows?

Before placing limits on someone’s abilities, ask yourself these questions:

* Do I want a protective or safer environment for the person I’m caring for or for my own sake?
* Is my assessment of the risk influenced by personal fears or desires?
* Is the risk real, or would I experience less guilt and worry less knowing the person I’m caring for is safe?
* Do I feel the need to have a mental competency test done on the person I’m caring for or do I feel they are able to function globally?
* Do I feel the person I’m caring for is aware of how their decisions and choices are affecting others?

Family caregivers are often challenged to respect the person they are caring for – and their choices – and accept risk while continuing to offer support. It shouldn’t, however, be limited to non-interference.

Caregivers also have the right to negotiate ways of managing risk to protect their aging loved one’s value, beliefs and safety. 


september 2016 INSPIRED senior living


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