Quality of Life for Disabled Elderly Tied to Dignity and Autonomy

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Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), studying multi-cultural residents at San Francisco’s On Lok Lifeways program, concluded that quality of life for disabled elderly people is most closely tied to two factors: a sense of dignity and a sense of autonomy.

Said lead author Jennifer King, MD: “Because of disability, not all of them are able do to all activities on their own, but they want to feel they have some say in how those activities progress throughout the day.”
These seniors, average age of 78, rated their quality of life higher than some might assume it would be for older people with disabilities.
“As the number of elders from diverse backgrounds with late life disability increases, we need to learn how to assess their quality of life, and develop an assessment scale that will adequately reflect what they tell us is important,” said King.

Four areas were considered important to their quality of life: physical (e.g., pain), psychological (e.g., depression), spiritual or religious (e.g., religious coping), and social (e.g., life-space). 

Dignity and a sense of control were identified as themes that are the most closely tied to overall quality of life.

On Lok is a model community so it is not clear if seniors there enjoy a better quality of life overall. That said, isn’t this all logical? Who doesn’t want dignity and autonomy?

And that gives me an excuse to shamelessly plug an organization of which I am on the board called CCAL – the Consumer Consortium for Advancing Person-Centered Living.

Person-centered living (PCL) is a way of life centered on personal preferences and values that stress dignity, choice, self-determination and individuality. Many of our nation’s aging and disability services and support have been all too lacking in understanding the need for this humanistic dimension. The new federal health care reform law will begin to change this. More can be done.

We spend a lot of time talking about patient experience in hospitals and person-centered care in nursing and assisted living facilities. But there is more to the continuum of aging services than these settings. 
Some of the initiatives were are working on from the consumer perspective include:
  1. Helping empower and engage consumers through a national initiative for consumers to create their own PCL Bill of Rights.
  2. Partnering with leading national organizations to host Town Hall Forums to bring together aging consumers with aging professionals, providers, and government leaders to discuss needs, interests, and challenges in numerous cities every year.
  3. Launching a national ‘by consumers-for consumers’ awareness campaign so that aging service and support providers clearly know what consumers want

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