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3 Cheers for This New Approach to Long-Term Care

The author finds hope in a new way of seeing care for the elderly

By Robert L. Kane MD

Editor's note: This article is part of a year-long project about aging well, planning for the changes that aging brings and shaping how society thinks about aging.

Something big is happening when an organization heavily weighted to long-term care providers adopts a set of core values that emphasizes meaningful lives, dignity and autonomy, even to the point of taking informed risks.

The Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging (MNLCOA) has done just this. It has established a wonderful template for other organizations, one that permits framing the future of long-term care in terms of what clients need and deserve. Thinking of older people, even frail older people, as an asset rather than a liability certainly changes the tenor of the discussion.

(MORE: Transforming Life as We Age)

‘They Can Do Well By Doing Good’

Creating excellent long-term care has faced an uphill struggle because of the weight given to concerns about risk and safety. Quality-of-care issues have trumped quality of life.

MNLCOA’s pronouncement marks a turn in the road.

Needless to say, I welcome it. I think about my mother in her last months being fed a diet of thickened liquids and pureed food because she occasionally choked while eating. I dare to hope that people like her will no longer be sent to an emergency room every time they fall, only to be left confused and even delirious on a gurney while more urgent cases are treated.

(MORE: Dying in America: Care Should Be Kinder)

The challenge now is to transform this bubbling-up into a fountain. Ideally, this prototype will be emulated around the country.

No one expects all those long-term providers to set aside self-interest, but in the unforgettable words of that great American philosopher, Tom Lehrer, they can do well by doing good.

The MNLCOA Core Values are reproduced below.


MNLCOA Core Values

We believe that all people have the right to meaningful lives and to be recognized for their unique identity as they age. We will promote opportunities for people to exercise choices, to contribute to the greater society as they choose and to live a life filled with quality experiences.

We believe that older adults are an asset to and an integral part of the communities in which we live. We will foster communities where older adults are connected, engaged and valued.

(MORE: Here Are the Best Cities for Successful Aging)

We believe that people have the right to age with dignity and autonomy, including the right to take informed risk. We advocate for change when these rights are impinged upon.

We believe that older adults have the right to culturally appropriate community services, social connections and healthcare that fosters their ongoing physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.

We know that older adults can be vulnerable to poverty and isolation. We believe there is a societal obligation to ensure that the basic human needs of older adults are met.

We believe that systems must be integrated, holistic and flexible to support the diverse, growing and changing needs of people as they age.

Robert L. Kane MD, MD holds an endowed Chair in Long-term Care and Aging at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. He is an internationally recognized expert on the care of older persons. He is also part of a group called The Long-Term Care Re-think Tank, and is doing all he can to change the way our country currently delivers care. Read More
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