The “dignity of risk”

The "dignity of risk"

One of the most challenging dilemmas when caring for an aging parent is balancing their preference for independence with your concern for their safety.

If you have noticed lapses in cleanliness, meals, bill payment, or other areas, you may be worried that your loved one is not able to safely live alone. They may refuse assistance, however, not recognizing there is a problem.

Research suggests that as many as 1 in 10 elders make health care and lifestyle choices that put their safety and well-being at risk. Scary as that may sound, they are adults and need to be afforded the “dignity of risk.” The following may help:

  • Accept some risk. Get a professional evaluation of your loved one’s ability to make decisions clearly. Even if your relative has mild memory loss or early dementia, they are still legally entitled to make personal decisions. We all have the right to make “bad” choices.
  • Clarify your loved one’s long-term priorities. Become an ally. Discuss what’s most important, then work toward that goal together. “Mom, I too want you to be able to live out your days right here, just as you say. Let’s see what we can come up with together to make sure that happens.”
  • Act on what’s acceptable. Adopt an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to pursue change slowly. If dad won’t give up driving, will he accept rides at night? Look for options that add to safety while you support your relative’s long-term goals.
  • Get direction for the future. Talk with your parent now about worst-case scenarios on a “what if” basis. Emphasize that you want things to unfold to your parent’s liking as much as possible. Be sure they understand that your intent is to understand the values behind their decisions so you can make choices that fit with their goals.