Written By: Alyssa Pereira
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alyssa is a fourth-year student at McMaster in Aging and Health Studies. She also works as a paid caregiver for older adults.
As a caregiver for older persons with dementia and/or physical disabilities, the method of care that has proved to be most effective throughout my multiple interactions with clients is person-centered care.
You may have heard this term in passing before, or while reading online, but what does it really mean? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines person-centered care as “empowering people to take charge of their own health rather than being passive recipients of services”. This definition suggests that not only is another individual responsible for providing this person-centered care, but they are also responsible for empowering the person for whom they are caring.
So, how can this be practiced in reality and in your care relationships? Here are my top tips for achieving good health outcomes through person-centered care.
- Ask questions
This may seem like a simple suggestion, but it can often be overlooked within the stressful period of making care decisions for a loved one. Asking questions about values, preferences, needs, and wants, will not only help the one you are caring for to feel a closer bond, but will also help in ensuring you can make the right decisions for their care based on factors they may deem as less important to medical professionals/healthcare providers. For example, the sex of a healthcare provider may not seem relevant when seeking one out, but in terms of person-centered care, having a female nurse rather than a male nurse (or vise versa) may support your loved one’s health in terms of comfort and openness.
2. Emotional supports
In the pursuit of good health, especially in the later stages of life, one’s emotional well-being and mental health may be put on the backburner. In order for good health outcomes to occur, there needs to be a holistic understanding of the person. Thus, a person-centered caregiver should be providing emotional support, or external resources, that will allow for the recipient of care to feel taken care of in all aspects. It is not uncommon that when people experience health problems in later life, and need support from family caregivers, they express that they feel like a “burden”. This often results in older adults keeping their emotional distress to themselves to not further burden anyone, yet they do not realize that this can be detrimental to their health outcomes. Therefore, person-centered caregivers should be providing opportunities for the recipient of care to express their emotions, and seek out support that will address such issues.
Providing your loved one with options is so important to ensuring agency in later life, especially when dealing with major health problems. Although multiple options may not be provided in the actual care techniques, creating more simple choices/options within these moments of care can create a world of difference. For example, simply asking the recipient of care “which side of your body should I approach you on?” or “would you prefer to have someone else present during this?” or even “what colour blanket for your bed would you like?” can help them to feel included in the administration of care, which can have profound benefits both physically and mentally.
Ensuring that you are educated in the principles of person-centered care is key in ensuring the benefits of this type of care. This type of care is not yet the norm. You can access information online that covers the various elements of person-centered care. See below for resources.
Including your loved one in care decisions is the key element of person-centered care, yet this should not be the limit to one’s inclusion in the care process. By including the recipient of care in the process of learning about person-centered care, they can make decisions and provide suggestions based on the potential benefits of this type of care delivery. In other words, if the recipient of care is aware of the potential benefits of person-centered care, they may feel more willing to receive care, or make suggestions to the person administering care, as they would feel more involved in the entire process of caregiving. Of course, every individual’s comfort level in the care process is unique, but it is still important to consider this idea of inclusivity, allowing the recipient of care to have agency in the process of caregiving.