Carol Silver Elliott

When the student is ready

How often have we all used the phrase, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  It does seem to be true in many cases. But I suspect that the “teacher” (in whatever form) was there all along, the lesson just was not relevant to us or we were not open to it at that point in time.

We see this all the time when it comes to care for older adults.  So often the older adult, as well as the adult children, finds themselves facing a crisis or the need for an immediate decision and they have no sense of what options exist.  The elder needs help, perhaps ongoing medical care or supervision.  Perhaps they cannot go safely home from the hospital or are no longer able to manage independently.  At that moment, there is no time to plan, only to act.

None of us want to think about needing help or becoming medically compromised.  None of us want to think of our loved ones that way either.  Yet we know, even if we pretend not to, that the time may come when we have those needs and choices have to be made.  The question is—how do those choices get made?

Most of us have experience making plans.  Whether we plan a project personally or professionally, whether we’re planning for retirement or even a family vacation, the principles are the same.  We have to think about what we want the outcome to be and what’s involved in getting to that outcome.  We have to gather information and educate ourselves.  We would be unlikely to jump into something major in our lives without thought.  Yet, when it comes to elder services, the decision is often being made under pressure and with limited knowledge.

It is not that the information isn’t available. Of course it is.  Not only do senior living providers have websites.  But many are active in the community and in the media.  Yet, very often it is only at a time of crisis that people are trying to sort out the differences between long term care, assisted living, home care and all the rest.

I would guess that much of this stems from avoidance.  We don’t want to think of ourselves, or our loved ones, as compromised in any way.  We lull ourselves into thinking that our parent of today will be the same for the next decade or longer, that age or illness will not play a role.

That is not to say that there are not people who live full, healthy lives and need little outside support.  But for the many who do need assistance, it behooves us to open our eyes and learn a bit more.  Not every individual requires residential care.  Not everyone who needs residential care requires a nursing home.  The kind of services, support, environment and care someone needs are determined by their condition as well as by the preferences of the elder and their family.

We often start to research schools for our children before they are even before.  Should we not research what aging services are for our loved one? Should we not know what the choices are “in the event of?” The “teacher” is available, in many ways and in every community.  As those who care for older adults, it’s time to open ourselves to those lessons.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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