There are times in life where we need to make important decisions for ourselves or on behalf of a loved one. This is especially critical for families who have a child with special needs or an elderly parent(s) living at home. There are some common questions that frequently arise during a major transition in the person’s physical and/or mental health. Here are a few:
What quality of life do they want for their future? Is this the safest place for them to live? What services and supports are available that will enhance their well-being? What roles and responsibilities will each family member hold?
Everyone involved in the process needs to consider these questions and evaluate other factors before arriving at a common consensus. In this article, I will make recommendations that will facilitate the process of choosing the services, providers, supports and housing that are most beneficial for a loved one. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they will help you or other families you know decide what is best for the person’s mental and physical health.
Family members and close friends are often confused and overwhelmed at the onset of a disability or chronic illness acquired by a loved one. They do not know who or where to turn. For example, someone with MS or another neurological disorder has symptoms that have become progressively worse. He or she is experiencing pronounced physical and/or cognitive limitations that restrict their mobility and activities of daily living (ADLs). Or, an elderly parent has recently become more disoriented and is demonstrating compromised balance when walking. The main concern for both these individuals is their safety.
Here are 3 suggestions when discussing and planning your loved one’s future welfare:
1.     Maintain open and honest communication. There is a potential for conflict when those involved have differing viewpoints, perspectives and personalities. It is of utmost importance that all family members share their feelings and opinions in a respectful tone. Expressing each other’s views contributes value when done with an attitude of humility. Also, a willingness to compromise helps facilitate the decision making process.
2.     Apply appropriate options to see what works best. Not all opinions are necessarily going to be suitable for the individual’s needs at the time. However, more ideas usually lead to additional options that can be explored. Those ideas that have been agreed upon can then be executed to determine which ones are most beneficial. Each suggestion should have a clear objective, method of implementation, and how it will be measured. Remember that each one can be either modified or dropped depending on whether the outcomes are achieved or not.
3.     Utilize the counsel and advise of a third party. It is often helpful to have an objective set of eyes and ears to assess a family conversation that concerns the health and well-being of a loved one. That person can either be a professional or close family friend who is familiar with the situation. He or she should have limited emotional attachment, the ability to evaluate input from ALL participants, and delay expressing personal opinions and recommendations until the end of the discussion.
Family members of a person with special needs or chronic illness want to provide a safe and healthy environment. Critical plans and decisions need to be made in advance or at the onset of a major transition. Although conversations can be challenging, decisions will be clear, concise and valuable when all three suggestions are applied. It could prove to be an opportunity for family members to draw closer with one main objective…preserving the dignity and well-being of their loved one.