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Whose needs matter most?

When the best intentions aren’t enough

In 2010, Athul Gawande was described in time Magazine as one of the world’s most influential thinkers. He is a surgeon, a writer and a public health researcher. His work was cited by President Obama when the health care reform legislation being debated in the US Congress.

Gawande wants elderly people to thrive. And he knows how to make this happen. He knows that they thrive when their needs are met.

Yes of course, all very obvious, you might think. If you’ve had even the briefest exposure to NVC, you’ll be aware of the importance of getting our needs met.

But just pause a moment. If you were the adult child of an elderly parent, seeking a suitable retirement home, which of your parent’s needs would be uppermost in your mind?

Care homes know from experience that elderly parents typically defer to their offspring’s decision and that one criterion above all else that influences the choice: SAFETY.

But when a resident settles into to their new safe environment, they all too often fall victim to the three plagues of boredom, loneliness and depression – because their offspring had not thought to ask about things like how residents keep in touch with friends, attend their favourite church or maintain links with the outside world in other ways.

A solution

Athul Gawande is a powerful advocate for elderly people to have a life beyond mere existence.

‘I visited a nursing home in upstate New York which applied for relief from certain safety regulations, to allow residents to own their own pets. They introduced four dogs, two cats and 100 parakeets. Not surprisingly, this led to battles about who was going clear up the dog poop but the residents who had something to care for came alive. They no longer needed their anti-depressants’.

What Gawande was tapping into was the residents’ need for purpose, meaning and connection to something beyond themselves. When those needs were met – whether by having a pet, or by any other means – they thrived.

Diana Athill, the 95 year old writer and broadcaster, reinforces this from her own experience. Initially reluctant to leave her own home and move into a care home, she found residential accommodation that offered her autonomy and respect – as well as companionship and connection with other people. With those needs met, she is thriving.

And you?

Whatever your age, I’m confident that you too have the same needs – and others as well. If you haven’t found ways to meet those needs to a significant extent, I don’t imagine that you will thrive. What will you do about it?


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