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Person-Centered Perspective in Senior Care


Like many of you, we have been a loving family caregiver for four elder parents, each of whom had individual needs, which changed over time.   We spent much time and energy seeking quality options across the spectrum
of senior living:  from independent living apartments, to assisted living communities, to special Alzheimer’s communities, and finally to long-term skilled nursing facilities.

We hope that you will adopt a person-centered perspective as you seek senior living options for yourself or your loved ones.

Such a perspective requires an understanding that person-centered care is a holistic approach that  focuses on enhancing all the dimensions of one’s health and well-being, which includes:

  • Physical health
  • Intellectual being
  • Social and emotional wellness
  • Creative being
  • Spiritual being

Person-centered living encompasses care, services and meaningful engagement that are planned according to residents’ personal preferences, values and goals.  This approach honors each senior’s dignity, choice, self-determination and individuality, which enhances quality of life and quality of care for seniors.

What Person-Centered Care Means for Seniors

From the seniors’ perspective, this type of care includes the following principles and practices:

  • “Nothing about me, without me.”
  • I have the right to determine how best to meet my needs.
  • My care should optimize my physical and psychosocial well-being.
  • My care must be nurturing, empowering and respectful.
  • It must include me, my family and care team in decision-making.

What Matters Most: Positive Emotional Connections and Experiences

When seniors offer their perspective on quality of care and services, they most often describe how the care or service was experienced by them.

Although seniors would probably say,  “It’s all about providing positive emotional connections and taking a new view of me,”  we believe they are really saying something else. They are saying, “See me for the person I truly am. See me for all the things I believe in, care about, and love to do. Don’t diminish my personhood just because I need some assistance with activities of daily living.”

It’s all about relationships and valuing the uniqueness of each resident.

How Person-Centered Care Affects Memory Care

When applied in memory care settings, all of the above-mentioned values, relationships, experiences and practices are enhancing the lives of individuals with dementia and other cognitive issues.

Person-Center Care Slow to Evolve in the U.S.

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report titled “Crossing the Quality Chasm” called for a redesign of our nation’s healthcare system, and described healthcare in America as impersonal and fragmented. The IOM report stated that a critical element needed in the redesign was a shift to a person-centered approach moving away from the traditional clinician/disease centered one.

In the decade following the IOM report, however, little national progress had been made to shift to making person-centeredness the standard of healthcare and long-term services and supports (LTSS). The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 helps to reinforce the need for change by requiring that services funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services be provided in a person-centered manner.

A growing body of empirical evidence indicates that person-centered practices are more pleasant to experience, help to optimize health and well-being outcomes, and result in higher satisfaction.

According to Jason A. Wolf, PhD, and Executive Director of the Beryl Institute, “The healthcare experience… is based on every interaction a patient and/or their family have on the care journey and is ultimately measured by the very perceptions those individuals have of their experience.”

Excerpted from: Dementia Care: The Quality Chasm, K. Love and J. Pinkowitz (eds). Falls Church, VA. National Dementia Initiative, CCAL

Seeking Person-Centered Living Communities

As you visit different communities, we encourage you to spend time at the community and see how comfortable you and your loved ones feel being there. Ask yourselves if you feel the following principles are being practiced:

  • Every person is provided a choice, autonomy and independence, and is treated with dignity, respect and privacy.
  • Services are provided in a respectful way that also includes their family and larger caregiving and support network.
  • People have the right to determine their needs, decide how best to have those needs met, and to be provided a means to give feedback about the quality and nature of the services and supports.

Moving into a new community is a major transition for the prospective resident and your entire family, so we urge you to drop by the community at different times of the day and week.  Chat informally with residents and staff.  Are they friendly and positive about the community?  Look for life enrichment within the community. Does it feel as if they are honoring the residents’ life experiences, choices and routines in the natural rhythms of daily living?  These are the person-centered elements that contribute to residents’ and families’ sense of belonging and well-being.