Saturday, December 14, 2013

Older Adult Support: Do They Want or Need It? (Research)

Have you noticed that the older people get, the more they are viewed as being in need of support? The problem with this generalized way of thinking is that support can be a very complex consideration. First of all, how do older people really feel about being receivers of support? Researchers of older adults set out to find that answer by interviewing community-dwelling, childless, older adults who were perceived by many to be “at risk” of lack of support.

The real meaning of support became more evident when the level of receiving support had to be defined. When researchers and assessors asked participants if they had enough support, responses regarding support and the experience of receiving it were explained in diverse ways:

   1) Some participants received support resulting from particular circumstances such as illness. They  viewed this kind of support as acceptable due to qualities of the support giver, and/or by being part of  reciprocal exchanges across time.

   2)  Participants resisted support, however, when associated with difficult interpersonal dynamics or the  giver’s assumptions about the receiver’s incapacity.

   3)  Some expressed concerns about wanting to be independent and not needing support.

   4)  Some felt the idea of being old and the equivalent of being in need of support was negative in terms of  being a support receiver.

Where do these responses leave researchers, needs assessors, and potential support givers? These responses emphasize the importance of examining how support receivers view themselves and their particular support needs before attempting to fulfill them. Support givers must not make misleading assumptions about “at-risk” groups. Although childless participants were perceived to be unsupported, many of them had a lifetime of self-support or an intentionally developed  “web of contacts” that satisfied them just fine.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.


  1. Ginny MiletoDecember 16, 2013


    l totally agree with your comments on how difficult it is to preceive the extent of help an elderly person needs. l cannot imagine how one gets help if they dont have children, which means no grand children either. l would hope they have a relative or kindly neighbor to see how they are struggling and would get involved.

    When my mom began to need help, l called her doctor and he was connected to a nurse who had caregivers on a list. We interviewed her, asked if she would do housework...something my mom couldnt do that much and was very fussy about how her house looked. l think what l am saying is, to get the elderly person to accept help, it would be good to find out what they cant do anymore and that it is driving them crazy that they cant. Once they see how much this helper can do what they dont anymore , it was so easy to convince her this caregiver was a good thing.

    l had also taken the car away from her and she hated that, but the caregiver had her own and would take my mom out whenever she wanted and where ever she wanted to go..

    To convince her she needed help with other things l would almost defy her to do them herself and when she couldnt, she would realise she needed help.

    lt sounds cruel and it was sad and difficult, but we have to become the mothers at one point and put our foot down for the sake of sanity and safety.

    l also would advise to allow the elder person to do what they can do to make them feel they are still worthy of something, to show them they are not totally helpless. My mom ended up living with me at the end and as much as she was not physically able to do much around the house to help me, l would give her tiny tasks she could peel potatos for dinner. She was happy to do it and felt she contributed something to the meal. At the very end when she was almost totally forgetful and in no shape to stay alone, l got the services of hospice to help me with her personal care and found an angel who would "babysit" for me when l had to go out. She protested in the beginning but l was lucky they were all so kind to her and would listen to her, make her laugh, and have lunch with her,etc.

    lts a slow and difficult process that unless you know this person who needs help well, it can be a long road to finding the right situation to help them. l was lucky.

    l wish everyone luck and dont despair.

  2. Ginny, thank you for sharing this wonderful story with such helpful details. You are an inspiration for other caregivers. You say you were lucky, but your mother was especially lucky to have a fine daughter like you.