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Person-Centered Care:
The New Philosophy of Elder Care

Person-centered care (or patient-centered care, which is the term most often used in medical settings) is care that is focused on patient control. Often times, whether in medical or non-medical facilities, decisions are made solely by medical professionals or facility staff members, thereby leaving the patient with few options or decision-making capabilities.

However, in a person-centered care environment, the individual or patient becomes an active decision maker, along with family members, doctors and staff employees. It is individualized care at its finest, and seniors and their families are demanding it.

Person-centered care certainly isn’t a new concept, as it was developed by the Bradford Dementia Group in England in the 1980s as a moral philosophy of care, but with baby boomers inching toward retirement and still caring for their elder parents, the expectations to provide individualized care have been brought to the forefront, and institutions of nearly any kind are now adopting person-centered care as their resident care philosophy.

What Does Person-Centered Care Encompass?

Depending on the facility, person-centered care can include everything from end-of-life care to when breakfast is served. In other words, person-centered care focuses on a patient’s individual likes and dislikes, needs, wants, and desires. It is about medical professionals, social workers, nurses, and other facility staff members taking the time to understand a patient’s wishes and do their best to accommodate them.

For example, if a patient has an upcoming surgery that would extend his life by a few years but decrease his quality of life in return, the medical staff in a person-centered care environment would review these options with the patient, laying out all his options but ultimately leaving the decision up to him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a patient in a person-centered care environment may be asked when she prefers to go to bed each evening. She may be asked whether she prefers to take a shower in the morning or at night and whether she would prefer to watch television after dinner or partake in a pottery class.

A person-centered care approach likely begins with a social history of the patient so the staff can better direct the patient’s plan of care. Today’s successful care providers understand that person-centered care advances the moral and philosophical goals of a facility, thereby working to accommodate unique needs and wants and provide a well-rounded, emotionally satisfying experience for the individual so that self-esteem is boosted, independence is encouraged, and an excellent quality of life becomes the ultimate goal.

The Components of Person-Centered Care

Because person-centered care is a philosophy of care, a number of components must be integrated as to achieve success. In particular, when choosing person-centered care for your loved one, ensure that the facility has achieved the following:

  • Makes a commitment to upholding the values of the individual, regardless of their level of functioning
  • Focuses on those interactions that meet specific, psychological needs of the patient, including love, identity, comfort, attachment and inclusion
  • Promotes positive health
  • Reframes any “problem” behaviors into needs that must be met and opportunities for communication with caregivers
  • Recognizes that all actions are meaningful
  • Maintains a staff that is emotionally available to all individuals in their care
  • Integrates all elements of positive person work

A person-centered care environment is one that: engages residents or patients in meaningful activities and programs; provides superior attention from an engaged and caring staff; and incorporates the same care practices to all residents, regardless of their condition or ability to clearly communicate. This model of care is crucial for all patients or residents, yet becomes a vital component for Alzheimer’s patients who may have lost the ability to clearly express their needs or wants.

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